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Donnell requests administrative hearing

By Staff | Apr 26, 2011

In the face of a recommendation of termination, Alternative Learning Center West Principal Derrick Donnell has requested an administrative hearing.
The Lee County School Board is now expected to vote Tuesday on whether to suspend Donnell, who has been suspended with pay since December, without pay until that hearing takes place in the next 60 to 90 days.
Joe Donzelli, spokesperson for the Lee County School District, said Tuesday that since Donnell has asked for a hearing, the board can vote to change his suspension status. If he had not asked for that additional step, the board could have voted to terminate his employment at next week’s meeting.
The board must allow the investigation process to continue to hearing if requested, Donzelli said, but it can stop him from receiving a salary from May 3 to June 30.
Donzelli said as per policy, the school board is the only entity that can take the action to suspend without pay. He said an amendment to change the policy to grant the superintendent that authority will come to the board very shortly.
“He or she will have to look at the merits of each case to suspend without pay,” Donzelli said about the new policy.
After the administrative hearing takes place, a recommended order will be issued by the judge, which could mean additional unpaid months.
School Board Member Mary Fischer said she does not have any particulars or details concerning the investigation because the board has not yet received the report. She said the board members generally receive the information in enough time to review it before a vote takes place.
According to documents released Tuesday, the investigation was prompted by a letter that the Florida Department of Education received from an employee on Nov. 2, 2010, alleging unethical behavior on the part of Donnell.
The letter alleged that Donnell promoted students from 8th to 9th grade without the completion or passage of required course work. It also alleged that Donnell was making deals with the students to eliminate the responsibilities they had to fulfill at the Alternative Learning Center. An additional allegation stated that one student was sent to a charter school instead of serving one day at the Alternative Learning Center.
Marian Lambeth, from the Bureau Chief of Professional Practices Services of the Florida Department of Education, sent an email to the Lee County School District’s Department of Professional Standards and Equity around Nov. 17, 2010, to indicate it had received the letter.
The district began investigating the alleged misconduct, which then brought forth other allegations against Donnell.
According to the district’s records, those additional allegations included granting permission for a student to leave school early every day, and giving two employees permission to remain at a school function at Beef O’Brady’s during working hours while becoming intoxicated and failing to notify the district that a teacher had possession of alcohol. The allegations also included that Donnell made inappropriate sexual and racial comments while he was the principal at Caloosa Middle School and the Alternative Learning Center.
While the administrative investigation was under way, Donnell was suspended with pay and benefits Dec. 16, 2010.
On March 15, a predetermination conference was scheduled to provide Donnell, along with his attorney, Robert Coleman, with the opportunity to respond to the allegations.
The conference resulted in a finding of probable cause to discipline Donnell, the documents state.
Donnell provided a 25-page written response to what wound up to be a total of nine complaints and allegations.
The district’s investigation looked into the promotion of 16 students, pulled from among the academic history and retention reports from the 2009-2010 school year.
Donnell stated in his response that he had no involvement with the 16 students found in the academic history and retention reports because he was not the principal at that time for the Alternative Learning Center.
A system analyst with the Information Systems Department deemed the promotions were suspicious because some credits that were earned were not. The report also states that an electronic personal education plan may not have been designed for the student to be promoted to the next grade and students may not have had the opportunity to earn an extra .5 credit by taking a semester-long career education course. In addition 7th and 8th grade students must take one course in education and career planning, which results with a academic and career path for the students.
Donnell also addressed the allegation of “making deals” with students. He stated that he worked with two high school students who had atypical circumstances with a teacher and their parents to address the situations. Although both of the students were allowed to sign out during their last blocked scheduled class, Donnell stated that they were still expected to complete all of their work.
Another allegation addressed in the district’s report dealt with a luncheon that was held at Beef O’Brady’s around Aug. 17 for the A+ Committee. The report stated that the owner of the restaurant contacted Donnell to tell him that they had stopped serving two of his employees alcohol after 5 p.m. Those two employees did not sign in or out on the sign in sheet for the school.
Donnell’s response states that a free luncheon was provided for his entire staff, which was later extended to other schools as well. Donnell said that there was no alcohol served during lunch and he wrote up a teacher for engaging in alcohol during school hours.
On April 8, a certified letter was mailed to Donnell to inform him that there was probable cause concerning issues of ethics and sexual harassment, and a recommendation was made to the superintendent to terminate his employment with the district.
Donzelli said every district administrator’s contract is up for renewal at the end of the school year. Donnell’s contract, which is also up for renewal, could not be renewed at the end of the year with or without cause.
“The district can simply choose to not reappoint an administrator for the next year,” Donzelli said.
Administrators have their reviews before June 30 every year, he said.
Donnell has been with the Lee County School District for 16 years, eight as a teacher and eight as an administrator.
Donnell, who also serves as a Cape Coral City Council member, could not to be reached for comment. He previously denied the allegations saying that the one concerning sexual harassment came as a particular surprise.
“I am furious to even see that with this investigation,” Donnell said in the earlier interview. “I’ve had no complaints, I’ve never had it attached to my name.”