Two of three Cheektowaga Central High School teachers accused of improper conduct with a former student charged with murder reportedly are back on the job, but the official word from the district Tuesday was only that a resolution has been reached.
School Superintendent Dennis Kane said he couldn’t answer questions about whether the teachers returned to school. “That could identify people,” he said.
Instead, he offered a statement:
“The district is pleased that it has reached a resolution with regard to the status of two teachers who have been on administrative leave since August 2013. As is the case with personnel issues, the district is not at liberty to identify the teachers at issue or the details of the resolutions reached with each of them.
“However, the Board of Education and the administration believe that each resolution is appropriate and in the best interests of the district and that the district has effectively reinforced its expectations regarding standards of conduct.”
No public action was taken regarding the teachers during Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting. Elizabeth D. Carlson, an attorney with Hodgson Russ who is representing the district, would only say: “The district has resolved the matter and is moving forward.” Noting that it is a personnel matter, she said she couldn’t name the teachers, discuss any disciplinary action that might have been taken or confirm if any of them are back in the classroom.
Three teachers, whose names haven’t been released, were placed on paid suspension last August, after town police met with the School Board about communication – mostly phone calls – between the teachers and former student Dontre Jones. Jones was in the Erie County Holding Center awaiting trial on a murder charge. In one conversation, a teacher identified someone who “snitched on” Jones, according to audio and transcripts released by police.
Police said the contact was “inappropriate” but didn’t break any laws.
Tuesday afternoon, Cheektowaga Police Chief David Zack said he heard about the resolution from members of the media.
“In fairness, when you’re talking about termination, you do have to look at someone’s entire career. You can’t say one lapse of judgment should be all that counts,” Zack said. “I said I would respect their decision and whatever they came to.”
In early January, the School Board voted to send the matter to a third party. But Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the State Committee on Open Government, said the actions were consistent with provisions of state education law that deal with disciplinary procedures and penalties for tenured district employees.
State law requires that school boards must determine whether probable cause exists to bring a disciplinary proceeding against an employee. The matter then is heard by a hearing officer or panel.
If the hearing officer or panel dismisses the charges, the employee goes back to work and the charges are expunged from the record. In that instance, “You don’t have the right to know anything,” Freeman said Tuesday.
But if some of the charges are sustained or a settlement agreement is reached, those records are public, Freeman said – even if the settlement agreement has a confidentiality clause. “The court has said you can’t do that,” he said.
Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the state Education Department, said Tuesday: “We’re aware of the case but cannot comment on it at this time.”
Ira Watkins Jr., 19, of Buffalo, died May 31, 2011, after Jones fired a gun into a crowd near the basketball courts in Cheektowaga Town Park on Harlem Road. Jones was convicted of manslaughter last spring and is serving a 25-year prison sentence.