Our newspaper has a commitment to providing transparency and accountability when it is sorely needed, and this is one of those times.
This week, we have once again devoted significant space to covering the investigation of a local teacher, John Rees, who was accused of grooming two students for romantic relationships that took place almost immediately after their graduations.
This story details more public documents recently released about the case — the full complaint against the teacher, as well as the district’s settlement agreement with Rees, which resulted in his resignation and the suspension of the district’s investigation into his conduct.
At a school board meeting, one of the students who made the complaint, joined by other community members, urgently called for the district to pay its investigator to at least complete partial reports on the interviews that were conducted during its investigation — something that Superintendent Slade McSheehy has declined to do.
And indeed, it now appears that the district might have made a legal agreement not to do so in its settlement agreement with the teacher, which stipulated that the district would close its investigation.
The agreement also stipulates that Rees will continue to receive his full salary and benefits until his resignation date of Aug. 31, plus an additional payment of $10,000 on that date.
The settlement is costly to the district, but not as costly — as the school board and administration have generally said — as possible litigation that could have resulted in a more adverse decision regarding the employment of the teacher, due to a state statute that governs adverse changes in contracts for certified employers.
But the decision to suspend the investigation brings with it a more incalculable cost, in terms of public trust and transparency.
It is wrong that the district did not finish its investigation, as it had done in the case of another teacher, Kara Sears, who was also accused of grooming a student for a romantic relationship this year.
That investigative report found that Sears had violated multiple policies of the district — providing an independent conclusion and many facts about the case that islanders have a right to know.
Our community needed these same kinds of facts and conclusions from the district in the Rees case.
And so, in the absence of that kind of transparency, The Beachcomber has now provided what we can, here on these pages, so that islanders will know the full scope and severity of the complaint, and better hear the voices and read the evidence presented by the students and their attorneys.
The district has said that another investigation, recently launched by the state agency charged with certifying teachers, the Office of Professional Practices (OPP), will provide a public record on the Rees case.
However, OPP is also investigating the Sears case, and one major resource it will have in that investigation is the district’s finalized report on it — the kind of report that will not be available to OPP in the case of Rees.
The district erred badly in its decision.
When students come forward with a complaint as grievous as the one made in this case, they — and the community — should know that our district will, at the very least, complete its own investigation of the matter and be completely transparent about the results.
— Elizabeth Shepherd, Editor
Clarification: This editorial was edited, after its publication in the May 25 Beachcomber’s print edition, to make clear that the school district has cited a state statute governing adverse changes to contracts with its certificated employees, in discussing its reasons for not firing John Rees and Kara Sears, but rather, negotiating resignation agreements with them.