For the third time since January, a Highlands School District employee has been suspended without pay.
The school board on Monday approved a statement of charges against the employee, who was placed on unpaid leave.
The board did not identify the employee at its meeting Monday. The person was identified on a meeting agenda as “Employee #4367.”
Statements of charges are formal notices issued by school officials detailing proposed reasons for firing an employee.
Nothing is known about the nature of the charges in Highlands’ latest case.
The leave was effective Monday.
The Tribune-Review formally objected that taking such action without identifying the employee could violate the state’s Sunshine Act. The board did not respond to the objection nor did it make any other public comment on the matter.
The Trib’s objection was based on the act’s public comment provision, which requires agencies to offer a meaningful opportunity for public comment before all official action.
“The board should have announced the name of the employee prior to the vote so that the public could understand the vote and provide meaningful public comment before the vote took place,” said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association. “The fact that they did not leaves the school open to Sunshine Act liability.
“The law doesn’t require the charges to be announced but, at a minimum, the public must be able to understand who is subject to board action so that they can provide comment, if they wish to exercise their right to do so,” she said.
Following the meeting, the Trib submitted a Right-to-Know Act request with Lori Byron, the district’s business manager and Right-to-Know officer, for the employee’s name, job title or position, length of employment, salary and contract, if applicable.
The Trib has an appeal pending with the state’s Office of Open Records over the district’s refusal to identify an employee charged and placed on unpaid leave in February.
While withholding the name, the district did disclose that the employee was a special education teacher at Highlands High School who had been employed from March 16, 2005, through March 18, 2019. The employee’s salary was $64,310 in the 2018-19 school year.
The district refused to release the charges against that employee. The Trib did not appeal that refusal.
The district did ultimately identify an employee the school board charged and placed on unpaid leave in January.
On Feb. 28, the district responded to the Trib’s Jan. 22 Right-to-Know request and identified the employee as Iesha Griffin, a payroll and benefits secretary, who had been hired effective Oct. 16, 2018. That response came after the school board voted to fire her at the Feb. 18 meeting, and after district Solicitor Ira Weiss confirmed Griffin was the employee.
The district denied the Trib’s request for the charges against Griffin. Weiss said she was fired because of job issues he would not specify.