District 205 releases Hardy, Sheffield letters—part one
To view a pdf of Dr. LaVonne Sheffield’s June 17, 2010, letter to Dr. Patrick Hardy titled “Re: Separation of Employment,” click here.
Dr. Patrick Hardy’s June 19, 2010, letter, titled “Rebuttal to Letter dated June 17, 2010 From Lavonne Sheffield,” is broken into the following three sections:
For pages 1-3 of Hardy’s letter, click here
For pages 4-6 of Hardy’s letter, click here
For pages 7-9 of Hardy’s letter, click here
By Joe McGehee
At 4:48 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 24 (the day before Thanksgiving), Rockford Public School District 205 released a June 17, 2010, letter by Superintendent Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield to former Rockford Auburn High School Principal Dr. Patrick Hardy titled “Separation of Employment” and Hardy’s June 19, 2010, rebuttal letter.
In a media advisory released with the letters, District 205 stated: “Rockford Public Schools has no comment on Dr. Hardy’s letter, deeming its contents are unworthy of response. Dr. Hardy was appointed Chief Academic Officer for Rockford Public Schools on July 1, 2009, and transferred to Auburn six months later. Dr. Hardy resigned from the School District effective June 30, 2010.”
Though The Rock River Times (TRRT) has been pursuing the release of Hardy’s letter for more than four months—and District 205 faces civil litigation for not complying with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and making the letter public to TRRT—the letters were released to all area media outlets.
In a District 205 release, Chief Communications Officer Mark Bonne stated: “Superintendent LaVonne Sheffield decided to make the letter public after being informed by Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP that the Public Access Counselor (PAC) for the Illinois Attorney General has issued a verbal opinion that Dr. Hardy’s letter does fall within the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] exemption regarding disciplinary documents, a distinction not previously addressed.
“Dr. Sheffield indicated that Rockford Public Schools stands by the merit of its position that disclosure of the letter without Dr. Hardy’s permission breached his right to confidentiality,” Bonne’s statement added. “The verbal opinion issued by the state, however, is that Dr. Hardy’s letter should be released, despite its reference to disciplinary action. In addition, Dr. Hardy has confirmed the authenticity of the letter to local news media, which brings the letter into the public arena.”
The alleged verbal opinion issued by the PAC was in response to the district’s third attempt at an exemption to the FOIA. TRRT has been attempting since Aug. 18 to obtain the Hardy letter from District 205 through various FOIA requests.
However, the district had refused to release the letter, even after the Illinois Attorney General’s PAC previously ruled twice the letter should be released under the FOIA.
The district filed two exemption requests with the PAC that claimed the letter was a private matter and a personnel matter, respectively. Both exemption requests were flatly rejected by the PAC Sept. 29. The PAC’s Sept. 29 ruling stated District 205 should “…release the letter to [TRRT Staff Writer] Mr. [Joe] McGehee after providing Dr. Hardy written notice…”. The PAC went on to state that their ruling should “…serve to close this matter.”
Despite the release of the letters, a preliminary hearing in the lawsuit filed against District 205 by TRRT and the Illinois Press Association (IPA) is scheduled for Feb. 2, 2011, in Room 426 of the Winnebago County Courthouse. If the IPA and TRRT are victorious, District 205 would be responsible for not only covering the legal fees of the plaintiffs, but could also face fines of up to $5,000.
TRRT is presenting the letters in their original form as released by District 205 to ensure all statements and allegations are presented in the proper context. All grammatical and spelling errors appear in the letters supplied by the district.
Because of the length of the letters (Hardy’s letter alone is nine pages) and space constraints in the print edition, the letters will be broken into three parts. However, the letters are available in their entirety at the beginning of this article.
Editor’s note: What follows is Sheffield’s June 17, 2010, letter to Hardy, and the first part of Hardy’s June 19, 2010, rebuttal letter.
Date: June 17, 2010
To: Dr. Patrick Hardy
Re: Separation of Employment
Please allow this letter to confirm your separation of employment with the District, effective June 30, 2010.
As you know, on Monday, May 11, 2010, I personally spoke with you regarding your intent to accept employment with the Freeport School District and to inform you that it was not appropriate to have members of the Freeport School District conduct an on-site visit/interview of you and others at Auburn High School. During this conversation, I made it clear that such an on-site visit could not occur. You acknowledged that you understood this directive. You also confirmed that you were committed to the Rockford Public Schools and intended to remain with the Rockford Public Schools.
Of course, I have since learned that you had the Freeport School District on-site team meet with Auburn High School staff and administration during school hours at a nearby restaurant. Such an action was disruptive to the school environment and was in direct contravention to the directive that I had issued. However, it paled in comparison to your other actions.
During my absence of the week of May 17, you informed the Board that you were accepting employment with the Freeport School District. It was also during the week of May 17 that the administration team learned that you were not and had not been performing your professional duties. For example, you were required to oversee the remediation plan of one of your staff members. Although you had assigned the oversight of the plan to an assistant principal, you were aware that this assistant principal had been on FMLA. Instead of taking on this task yourself or reassigning this task to another administrator, you simply washed your hands of this matter, allowing critical deadlines to be missed. In addition, you failed to complete tasks necessary for readying the building and staff for the upcoming school year.
As a result, you were asked to meet with Cedric Lewis on the morning of May 19th. During this meeting, Mr. Lewis asked if you were able to peaceably close out the school year and your employment with the district. Mr. Lewis indicated that, if you believed you were unable to carry out your assigned duties, you could place yourself on administrative leave. Without pause, you indicated that you chose the administrative leave option. Immediately upon exiting Mr. Lewis’ office, you turned around and falsely told Mr. Lewis that all of your assistant principals had called off ill that day and that there were no administrators in the building. This caused Mr. Lewis and the other administrators to immediately leave their posts and travel to Auburn High School to ensure the building indeed was properly staffed for the day. Upon their arrival at Auburn High School they learned that your statement was false.
Upon leaving the meeting with Mr. Lewis, your next action was to call for a press conference. Thus, approximately 20 minutes after you left the administration building, the individual board members and my office began to receive calls from the media inquiring about you being “forced” to take administrative leave. We have since learned that, as you were walking out of the building, you called one of the local pastors and informed him that you had been placed on administrative leave. You further asked to schedule a press conference.
As a whole, your conduct has not only been disappointing, it has been unprofessional. Consequently, this letter will be placed in your personnel file such that, in the event you again seek reemployment with the district, there will be a record of your actions.
LaVonne M. Sheffield, Ph.D.
Enclosure: copy of above mentioned emails
Editor’s note: What follows is the beginning of Hardy’s June 17, 2010, rebuttal letter, which was sent to Sheffield and all Rockford Board of Education members. The second part of his rebuttal letter will appear in the Dec. 8-14 print edition, and the third part will appear in the Dec. 15-21 print edition.
June 19, 2010
Rebuttal to Letter dated June 17, 2010 From Lavonne Sheffield
Dear Rockford School Board,
I am writing this letter as my rebuttal to the letter from LaVonne Sheffield titled “Separation of Employment” dated June 17, 2010 that was forwarded to my home. I would also like this letter to serve as my response to the voicemails disseminated by the school district falsely asserting that I refused to complete the 2010 school year in a professional manner and “placed myself” on paid leave as well as the message to parents distributed by Mark Bonne (Chief Communications Officer) on behalf of the school district asserting the same. I was shocked and disappointed at the false allegations and voicemails statements as well as the glaring lies and omissions in your superintendent’s letter. I was equally disappointed that I was never contacted regarding the allegations or provided an opportunity to respond. As a result of her statement that her letter is being placed in my personnel file I am forced to break my silence and respond provide this rebuttal. I was content to simply leave quietly and have not made any disparaging remarks about the district or its officials but your superintendent continues to harass me and she and other cabinet members continue to assert these false allegations to members of the community. I will now explain in detail how I arrived as my decision to depart the Rockford Public Schools, the Cabinet, and accept the paid leave offered to me on May 19th which was the only option clearly delineated. Please find my rebuttal below.
Editor’s note: Read next week’s print edition (Dec. 8-14) for the second part of Hardy’s rebuttal letter. The third part of the letter will be published in the Dec. 15-21 print edition. Both the Sheffield and Hardy letters are available in their entirety at the beginning of this article. Following are links to TRRT’s coverage of its pursuit of the release of the letter and documents related to the lawsuit against the district.
Following are links to TRRT’s coverage of its attempts to obtain the letter:
• District 205 battles to keep unflattering letter private, Oct. 6-12, 2010, issue of TRRT
• District 205 challenges Public Access Council’s ruling, continues battle to keep unflattering letter from public, Oct. 13-19, 2010, issue of TRRT
• District 205 yet to release unflattering letter, Oct. 20-26, 2010, issue of TTRT
• Board of Education says little about battle over unflattering letter, Nov. 3-9, 2010, issue of TRRT
• Editorial: Public must take stand in battle for unflattering letter, Nov. 3-9, 2010, issue of TRRT
• IPA, TRRT file suit against District 205, LaVonne Sheffield, posted Nov. 3 under Happening Now
• Preliminary hearing in IPA, TRRT suit against District 205 Feb. 2, Nov. 10-16, 2010, issue of TRRT
• Taxpayers demand accountability from school district, Nov. 10-16, 2010, issue of TRRT
• Sheffield responds to ‘Rumor Tuesday’ at Nov. 9 Board of Education meeting, posted Nov. 10 under Happening Now
• A note about the Hardy letter, posted Nov. 22 under Happening Now
• Editorial: The responsibility of credible reporting and the public trust, Nov. 24-30, 2010, issue of TRRT
• District 205 releases Hardy, Sheffield letters, posted Nov. 24 under Happening Now
• District 205 releases Hardy, Sheffield letters—part one, Dec. 1-7, 2010, issue of TRRT
From the Dec. 1-7, 2010 issue
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