On Friday, June 24, an investigation report was submitted to the Herald following an open records request in regard to the ongoing investigation on Superintendent, Dr. Amy Van Deuren.
The report comes from von Briesen & Roper s.c, attorneys at law, who is the third party investigator the Sparta Area School District (SASD) hired for the investigation. Jill Pedigo Hall, Esquire was the investigative reporter in this case. The report excludes the names of the complainants and others. However, the legal team said, “they will go through the public notice process to make that information available to the public, however that will take up to two weeks.”
Jill Pedigo Hall, Esq. conducted in-person and telephone interviews of fifteen individuals in the course of the investigation, including former Board President- Josh Lydon, current Board Prseident- Anthony Scholze, Sparta High School Principal- Sam Russ, and Superintendent- Dr. Amy Van Deuren.
On March 28, two complaints were filed from Directors positions in the district alleging workplace harassment, bullying, and the creation and maintenance of a hostile work environment in violation of SASD policy by Dr. Amy Van Deuren.
Jill Pedigo Hall, Esq. initiated communications on April 1. Interviews commenced on April 5.
On April 8, a third complaint from a former elementary teacher alleges inappropriate and harsh conduct by the Superintendent toward a district employee was filed.
On April 10, a fourth complaint was filed, the complaint was made on March 23. The complaint cites a school-wide email that the superintendent had issued a year prior as detrimental to staff morale, and also the Superintendent’s lack of communication with and arrogance toward teachers and SASD Board members.
Additionally the reporter reviewed and considered a substantial number of relevant documents and policies including the complaints and many policies including Superintendent job description, harassment and bullying policies, and a November 11, 2021, email from Dr. Van Deuren to the Cabinet apologizing for “going off.”
One complaint from a Director alleges that for the last three or more years, she has been subjected to a “severe, pervasive and persistent hostile work environment” caused by the actions and communications of Dr. Van Deuren.
The other Directors complaint alleges that “on multiple occasions over the past four years in the District, Dr. Van Deuren has created a hostile work environment of bullying, harassment and verbal abuse toward targeted individuals including myself.” This complaint also indicated a fear for personal safety with borderline violent conduct and communications. She stated “At this time, I do not feel safe being in my office or on school grounds if she (Dr. Van Deuren) has access to the district buildings or means of communication with me directly.”
The third complaint, a staff member who was terminated from the District by Dr. Van Deuren, alleges that in both a review and termination meetings, Dr. Van Deuren was harsh, negative, and didn’t allow the staff member to speak.
The fourth complaint goes back to April 30, 2021, Dr. Van Deuren received an anonomys complaint from an anonymous teacher. Following receipt, Dr. Van Deuren sent an e mail to the entire staff of the elementary school, including non- teachers, and quoted the concerns stated in the anonymous letter, including that “IEP Minutes” were “not being met, and ELL students were not being served” and “they have gone years without receiving services.” The complainant cites the content of the all-school communication as an example of Dr. Van Deuren’s lack of empathy and disregard for District employees. This complaint also mentions the “sense of arrogance” of Dr. Van Dueren stating that she treats the board “like a bunch of uneducated fools who couldn’t possibly have a better solution than the one she has presented.”
According to the report, credible evidence supports a conclusion that Superintendent Dr. Amy Van Deuren has regularly violated SASD anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies by engaging in a pattern and practice of bullying and creating and sustaining a hostile work environment for members of the SASD cabinet. Additionally, the evidence supports the conclusion that she has failed during her tenure to meet, to a lesser or greater degree, those critical essential functions and responsibilities of her position, according to policies.
The report cites an event on March 25, in which the two directors that filed complaints met with the District Compliance Office/ Sparta High School Principal Sam Russ. One director talked with Mr. Russ over the telephone that morning regarding a complaint which she had received. The complaint was an email from an employee concerned about hostile conduct by Dr. Van Deuren. Director 1 alerted Director 2 of the complaint and later in the day met with Mr. Russ.
Dr. Van Deuren ended up showing up at the high school during this meeting and went to Mr. Russ’s office door. Dr. Van Deuren knocked on the door during the meeting. Mr. Russ did not invite her in but opened the door so that the directors could be seen. Mr. Russ told Dr. Van Deuren that “now is not a good time; I think it’s best if you come back” twice before Dr. Van Deuren left.
After the meeting was finished, Mr. Russ then placed a call to the board president at the time, Josh Lydon, to report that he had been made aware of the two Director complaints of hostile work environment and to advise Mr. Lydon that policy required him to call legal counsel.
According to the report, Dr. Van Deuren’s recollection of the event on March 25 was seen as not credible.
The reporter interviewed eight members of the District cabinet, including three district directors and four school principals. Every cabinet member interviewed, corroborated and supplemented examples and instances of inappropriate, disrespectful, and aggressive conduct by Dr. Van Deuren that the directors alleged in their harassment complaints.
Additional findings include verbal abuse, aggressive conduct, hostile work environment, invasion of boundaries, and misuse of power.
The conclusion of the report states, Jill Pedigo Hall, Esq. has conducted many investigations into leadership over the last few decades. In such an investigation, there is often equivocation by some interviewees who do not see conduct in the same way as the complainant. Here, strikingly, there was no such equivocation. Each person interviewed reported the same inappropriate, volatile and aggressive conduct, the same intimidation and shared fear and lack of trust of the Superintendent. The Director complainants and several other administrators volunteered to this reporter that they could no longer work with the Superintendent, indicating that if she remained in place, they would leave SASD.
See the full investigation report in the attachment.
Dr. Van Deuren’s Statement
In Dr. Van Deuren’s Augmentation, submitted on June 17, she states “ I did not engage in any harassment, boundary invasion, isolation, or creating a hostile work environment of which I am accused. To read in this report how my behavior was perceived completely breaks my heart.”
She states, “with my reputation at stake, I cannot let this report stand as it is written without responding.”
According to her augmentation, Dr. Van Deuren was placed on paid leave starting Wednesday, March 30. She was not interviewed until April 25.
Dr. Van Deuren’s conclusion states that, “my actual behavior and the allegations do not align. I did not act out of character by stopping by Sparta High School to see my cabinet members before I left for the weekend, nor did I have nefarious intent. I did not uuse threatening language, nor make any physical motions that would have indicated that I posed a physical threat to anyone.”
Many of Dr. Van Deuren’s recollection of the events were found not credible by the investigator.
The board has stated that they will have an evidentiary hearing in closed session with Dr. Amy Van Deuren present, to afford her due process and to determine disciplinary action, if any, pertaining to the items found in the report. The board has not picked a date as of yet for the hearing.
See Dr. Amy Van Deuren's full augmentation in the attachment of the full investigation report.
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