Shaker Heights High School Principal Jonathan Kuehnle was placed on administrative leave Nov. 1, becoming the fifth faculty or staff member of the high school to either resign or to be placed on administrative leave since Oct. 10.
Scott Stephens, Shaker Heights schools executive director of communications and public relations, said there were “issues and concerns” about Kuehnle raised the week of Oct. 29 and in investigating the concerns, Stephens said it became clear at about 4 p.m. Nov. 1, the district needed to place Kuehnle on leave to review their nature.
Stephens declined to provide more information regarding who raised the issues or concerns, and even the nature of the concerns.
“This does not involve any kind of police matter or anything of that nature,” said Stephens, declining to say if the issues and concerns were an ethical complaint or related to anything in Kuehnle’s background. He said as a policy, the school district does not discuss personnel matters.
“I just want to make it clear to people that sometimes there’s a habit of the public to jump into the absolute worst-case scenario, and all I can say is this is not a police matter. It’s a school matter and we’re just reviewing these issues and concerns right now and really won’t know more until that review is over,” Stephens said. “If one is wondering how long that might take, probably several weeks. We’re having an outside entity do the review for us.”
Stephens said he did not know which outside entity would handle the investigation, but emphasized it would not be the school’s human resources department.
In the meantime, David Glasner, the former middle school principal, has been named the substitute high school principal as of Nov. 2.
The upheaval at Shaker Heights High School began Oct. 10 when English teacher Jody Podl was placed on administrative leave, though the decision wasn’t announced to students or teachers until Kuehnle sent an email on Oct. 19. A complaint was raised against Podl, but more information regarding the complaint was unavailable.
On Oct. 11, cheerleading coach Vikki Long resigned, as did an assistant cheerleading coach, following complaints made against the assistant coach by a student. The student complained the assistant coach made comments about the student’s weight and her eating habits. According to a statement by the school district, Long had informed the school months ago of her decision to leave the school at the end of October.
Finally, varsity football head coach Jarvis Gibson resigned on Oct. 26 after being placed on administrative leave Oct. 23. Gibson was placed on leave after the district learned Gibson employed an assistant coach, Johnathan Harrell, who had a criminal record. Harrell was hired in 2011, but wasn’t under contract with the school this year, and worked as a volunteer with the football team.
In 2015, Harrell pleaded guilty to petty theft, domestic violence and abduction, with more serious charges including endangering children and attempted rape dropped in exchange for the plea. He was indicted on an unrelated charge Jan. 23, 2015, for aggravated theft and possessing criminal tools and pleaded guilty to attempting to possess criminal tools. He originally was charged with possession.
Stephens said he couldn’t “get into that” when asked if the decision to place Kuehnle on administrative leave had anything to do with the other four employees who either resigned or were placed on leave in the past month.
“Everything is, in some ways, a little bit connected and a little bit totally unconnected,” he said. “You have a building that hundreds of people work in – issues come up and we try to act on them as quickly as we can, try to resolve them in a fair way.”
He stressed the safety and well-being of children were never an issue with any of the cases.
“There’s simply administrative things that have come up but I don’t want people to think the worst,” Stephens said.
The school district planned to hold a community meeting Nov. 8 with interim superintendent Stephen Wilkins and Glasner, to discuss questions and concerns.