Former Washington Local Superintendent Patrick Hickey spoke about healing the district while running for school board, but his election in November has led to protests, online disputes, debates about public comment, and behind-the-scenes quarrels between Mr. Hickey and administrators.
The unusual circumstances — Mr. Hickey resigned as superintendent following accusations of misconduct, was banned from district property, then ran and won a school board seat — took another turn this week. Mr. Hickey on Thursday asked the district to give him back more than $2,000 he previously reimbursed to the school system.
He requested reimbursement, according to a letter to the district’s law firm, because the district in late November insisted he additionally repay more than $1,000 for improper credit card expenditures he made while he led the school system. That reimbursement came after he was previously made to pay back the $2,231.50 he used for a skydiving trip with a special needs student and a corresponding video. He described the reimbursment for the skydiving related-costs as sending “an olive branch to the new board.”
“In that the board has asked me to pay 6 year old expenses that they deem to be not legitimate expenses, I am asking that the $2,231.50 be reimbursed to me as it was a proper public expense,” he wrote.
In his letter, he also defended the credit card purchases.
“He paid the money because he was told it wasn't appropriate, and as far as I'm concerned, it's over,” Board President David Hunter said Friday in response to Mr. Hickey’s letter.
Mr. Hickey resigned as Washington Local's superintendent in December, 2015, shortly before the school board could consider a resolution to fire him because of 37 charges compiled by a board-hired law firm. Those charges included allegations he failed to inform the district that he left Addison Community Schools in Addison, Mich., in 1990 after accusations surfaced that he had inappropriate relationships with students.
Mr. Hickey’s call for being repaid the skydiving money was included in a public records request he filed with the district. The request seeks “the report, summary or other investigation results prepared by a law firm in 2015 concerning the conduct of Patrick Hickey,” according to emails.
He also asked for “records provided to the Ohio Department of Education concerning Patrick Hickey.” That appears to be a request for documents in relation to an educator misconduct report sent to the state in January, 2016 by Mr. Hunter regarding Mr. Hickey.
The report states Mr. Hickey resigned under threat of termination, while in the course of an investigation into conduct unbecoming the profession, and that he “has engaged or may have engaged in conduct unbecoming to the teaching profession.”
The state can remove an educator’s license as discipline for conduct unbecoming the profession. State law prohibits the education department from even acknowledging investigations unless an educator is disciplined.
A full house attends the Washington Local Schools board of education meeting Wednesday.
Mr. Hickey’s letter follows a raucous school board meeting Wednesday. Hundreds of supporters and opponents of the impending school board member showed up as the board was set to vote on whether to do a one-time waiver of Mr. Hickey’s ban from district property. The crowd appeared evenly split between supporters and opponents, illustrative of the deep community divides over Mr. Hickey’s involvement in the district.
A separation agreement limits his access to district property for events other than those related to his children, although the superintendent or board president can waive that restriction. The board then banned him from all district property after an altercation between Mr. Hickey and school officials at a basketball game.
The board voted Wednesday 3 to 2 to not lift the ban for a 6 p.m. Jan. 3 organization meeting, when the new board will be seated.
Mr. Hunter at that meeting informed the audience that the board would not hear any comment regarding Mr. Hickey or his ban.
The restrictions drew outbursts from the crowd. References in both the Ohio Attorney General’s Sunshine Laws Manual and cited court cases suggest public Ohio bodies are not required to hold public comment sections during public meetings. But once they do, they public comment periods are protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendment.
Lee Strang, the University of Toledo’s John W. Stoepler Professor of Law and Values in its College of Law, said the public comment section would likely be considered a limited public forum, which allows the board to place restrictions on the comments. However, those restrictions must be viewpoint neutral.
“Did it just ban pro-Hickey-ban speech, or anti-Hickey-ban speech?” he said.
That’s unclear, because only those opposed to lifting the ban attempted to speak. But Mr. Hunter said that he will allow a public comment section at the Jan. 3 organizational meeting, so that members of the public can address the new board before it potentially votes on Mr. Hickey’s ban.
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