The Ohio Civil Rights Commission granted more time for attorneys of Christie Lane Schools to respond to an allegation that a school worker was let go after reporting an incident of alleged child abuse.
Former employee Lysa Cook has accused Christie Lane superintendent Dee Zeffiro-Krenisky of retaliating against her by not renewing her employment contract. In an Oct. 13 complaint to the commission, Cook contends the retaliation came after she reported that a Christie Lane gym teacher might have abused a mentally disabled student.
Cook is not the only former employee of the agency to claim retaliation for reporting abuse, nor the only one to accuse the gym teacher, Janet Scheid, of mistreating students.
In a letter written in May to the Huron County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, Christie Lane subcontracted speech pathologist Bob McEntee said his contract also was not renewed after he reported "abusive, bullying behavior" by Scheid against two students.
McEntee said he saw Scheid shove and taunt an autistic student in February 2005 during a game of Frisbee. He said he also witnessed a May 2005 incident in which Scheid threw, and hit a student with, a bean bag during another recreational activity.
"I put these incidents in writing," McEntee said in his letter. "I was told by the lead teacher to give them to her and she will give them to Dee so they don't 'disappear' like the other ones. Several staff privately thanked me for having the courage to put these incidents in writing. These staff said that they, too, had (witnessed) similar incidents (yelling at the students, yanking them off bicycles and general strong-arming and bullying); but, they had looked the other way for fear of losing their jobs. Other staff said, 'well you can turn it in, but nothing's gonna happen (because) it's Scheid, and everyone knows (Zeffiro-Krenisky) and Scheid are best friends."
The Ohio Department of MRDD acknowledges it investigated a total of four incidents of alleged abuse or mistreatment involving Scheid. The department did not find enough evidence to substantiate claims in three of those incidents, but in the May 2005 bean bag incident, the department determined Scheid violated the student's right to be treated with dignity and respect.
"The investigation dealt with four incidents and one was substantiated," Ohio Department of MRDD spokeswoman Sherry Steinman said Thursday. "Results were provided to the Huron County board president and a course of action was recommended."
Zeffiro-Krenisky said she suspended Scheid for two days after receiving the results of the investigation, but she believes Scheid is a good teacher. Scheid has been a gym teacher at Christie Lane since 1985.
Scheid declined to comment on the allegations.
"There are multiple staff as well as families that like and speak positively about Ms. Scheid," Zeffiro-Krenisky said.
The other unsubstantiated incident involving Scheid happened in October 2005 and was reported to Zeffiro-Krenisky by Cook. Ohio Department of MRDD spokesman Robert Jennings explained "unsubstantiated" means there was not enough evidence to prove the incident happened. Cook didn't actually witness the incident, but as a manager for Christie Lane, was legally responsible for reporting it once she was informed of it.
The incident involved a boy who Cook said refused to get off a bicycle during gym class. The aid told Cook she saw Scheid take the student into a room used to calm students.
In her complaint to the commission, Cook wrote that the autistic student came out of the room with a bloody lip.
Cook said in the complaint that she later heard the boy say, "Scheid did it. Scheid push me. Blood. Mouth."
"I told staff that they needed to file incident reports ... They were afraid to do so because they knew of the superintendent's friendship with the teacher, had observed disparate treatment with her in the past and were afraid they would lose their jobs if they spoke up," Cook wrote in the complaint. "I said that I would protect them and they must follow the mandated reporter law. It turned out that I couldn't protect them or myself. None of the five reporters are still employed."
The mandated reporter law requires those in the social services, education, law enforcement and health care professions to report any signs of child abuse or neglect.
Both McEntee and Cook contend in their complaints that after they reported the alleged abuse, they fell into bad graces with Zeffiro-Krenisky and their contracts were not renewed.
Zeffiro-Krenisky said she did not renew Cook's contract, saying "there were some issues," though she declined to elaborate. Cook's personnel file does not contain any disciplinary reports or bad work reviews.
Huron County MRDD president DeEtte Zimmerman, who has served on the board for four years, reaffirmed her confidence in Zeffiro-Krenisky as superintendent, saying her performance has been superior for 13 years.
"She brought in expertise, had the ambition and the desire and the education," Zimmerman said. "She's respected all around the state."
Huron County Jobs and Family Services Director Lowell Etzler said since he became director in June he has not received any complaints nor had any cause for concern raised about Christie Lane.
"I can't comment on any one of (the alleged incidents) because I wasn't here back then," Etzler said.
Christie Lane attorney Steve Postalakis said his firm has until Jan. 21 to respond to Cook's allegations, saying the reasons Cook was effectively laid off would eventually come to light.
"We're going to get into the reasons (Zeffiro-Krenisky) did that," he said Wednesday. "Now is not the time to do that."