Milton schools principal on paid leave, district 'suspends' investigation

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Neil Johnson
Tuesday, March 11, 2014

MILTON—The Milton School District is parting ways with a principal police investigated for complaints that she stood on an autistic student's legs and yelled at the student Feb. 18.

Milton Superintendent Tim Schigur said the school board decided in closed session Monday that it was in "the best interests" of the school to cut ties with Milton Harmony Elementary School Principal Jeanne Smith, allowing her to use accrued sick time to finish the remainder of the school year.

Schigur said Smith made the request for "a leave of absence" that will start immediately, run the rest of the year, and then segue into Smith's retirement, which is effective in July.

The board had previously accepted Smith's retirement at the end of the school year, which she had submitted for approval and the board had approved Jan. 27, Schigur said.

Meanwhile, Schigur said the district has opted to "suspend" its investigation of the incident, and whether Smith's actions Feb. 18 were within the scope of procedures and policies the district has in place for using school district isolation rooms and restraint holds.

School staff reported to Schigur that Smith told them she was going to "antagonize" a second-grade boy with autism who was having a tantrum and was put in the school's isolation room Feb. 18.

Staff said they witnessed Smith step on the student's ankles and knees and yell at the boy, telling him he was "a rotten kid."

The staff complaint prompted Schigur to request a police investigation, which Janesville police said was for a complaint of child abuse.

After a two-week investigation, police said they found Smith had committed no criminal wrongdoing.

Smith told police she was trying to use restraint holds to try to peak the boy's tantrum so he would calm down. She denied telling him he was "rotten."

Schigur would not give details about why the district decided to grant Smith a leave and suspend an investigation. He also would not talk about any findings the district had at this point.

He said the decision "ends things" between Smith and the district.

"It's in the best interest of her and the school district that we part ways," he said. "She (Smith) decided to use her sick days that she accrued and accumulated to walk away now. Having her go out on leave and having the board agree with it ends things. We'll move forward with appointing an interim principal and hire a full-time principal at some point."

Meanwhile, the district plans to review its own policies for its isolation rooms, which are used to calm students whose behavior poses a danger to themselves and others. It also plans to look at rules about physical restraint holds, which trained district staff are allowed to use under law to subdue or prevent students from harming themselves and others during emotional and physical outbursts.

"I'm pretty confident we've been following procedures, but this is a opportunity to update and reevaluate them," Schigur said. "We're going to review our procedures to make sure our policies and the board policy is being followed. We'll be doing that in the upcoming days and weeks."

Last week, the boy's father, Joshua Hooker, told The Gazette he didn't want to see Smith return to work at the school. The Gazette could not immediately reach him for comment on the board's decision Monday.

Last updated: 8:11 am Tuesday, March 11, 2014

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