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Published: Monday, 11/18/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Disciplinary TPS officer suspended, faces firing

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A Toledo Public Schools hearing officer who handled student appeals of school discipline faces his own trouble, as he has been suspended by the district and could be fired.

Ronald Spitulski, whose title at TPS is supervisor for South Toledo pupil personnel, was placed on paid suspension Oct. 17, and district records show the Toledo Board of Education “intends to consider [Mr. Spitulski’s] employment contract.”

Mr. Spitulski has the right to accept district administrators’ recommendation that he be fired, arbitrate the recommendation, or request a hearing either before the board or a referee.

Brian Murphy, TPS assistant superintendent, said Mr. Spitulski has not decided which route he wants to take. “It’s kind of in limbo right now,” Mr. Murphy said.

District records show he is accused of using inappropriate language during a student suspension appeal, acting unprofessionally toward parents, failing to maintain accurate hearing records, and misplacing or not keeping audio recordings of hearings, as required by state law. Several parents, district records allege, have refused to allow Mr. Spitulski to hear appeals because “they felt you were rude, unprofessional, and unfair.”

Attempts to reach Mr. Spitulski last week were unsuccessful.

Students suspended from a Toledo school may appeal that decision to a hearing officer. The district has three hearing officers: one who handles cases with special-education students, and two others who each handle cases from three of the district’s six learning communities.

Mr. Spitulski is no stranger to controversy. In 2007, while he was Woodward High School’s principal, a group of teachers threatened to walk out and refused to work under Mr. Spitulski, and accused him in a letter to school staff and the media of a series of unprofessional and inappropriate behaviors.

Mr. Spitulski sued nine teachers and the Toledo Federation of Teachers alleging “slander, libel, and false light invasion of privacy.” He lost the case and an appeal.

After suffering a heart attack that year, Mr. Spitulski retired under medical disability from Woodward, according to the complaint. But he returned to TPS in September, 2008, and was moved to the hearing-officer position, according to the district.

In one incident involving him as a hearing officer, a parent called to asked what an upcoming discipline hearing was about. Mr. Spitulski, according to district records, told the parent, “That sounds like you don’t know what’s going on with your own kid.” The parent also claimed Mr. Spitulski called her a bad parent.

Twila Page, a member of the African-American Parents’ Association, said she has had her share of run-ins with Mr. Spitulski. The association advocates for families who request their help during student discipline appeals, and she was present at at least one incident referenced in Mr. Spitulski’s disciplinary hearing.

Mr. Spitulski even appeared to blame Ms. Page for unrest, according to district documents, saying problems arose only when she was the parent representative.

Ms. Page alleged he was unfair, condescending, and even threatening in hearings, adding to what already can be an intimidating process for students and parents, she said.

“He was actually intimidating,” she said. “It almost seemed like he wanted to get up and hit you.”

She also criticized Mr. Spitulski for displaying what she considered to be political decorations in his office, including a “Gadsden flag,” the Revolutionary War-era flag that reads “Don’t Tread On Me,” and has become a symbol of the Tea Party political movement.

District staff met with Mr. Spitulski in 2012 about his “unprofessional treatment of Ms. Page,” according to district records.

The district hearing officer who recommended Mr. Spitulski’s termination noted parents and guardians can be upset during suspension hearings. “It is exactly why the utmost professionalism is to be exhibited,” she wrote. “That obviously has not been evident.”

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com, or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.



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