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Woodford Times - Peoria, IL
  • Midland School Board fires one principal

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  • VARNA — A divided Midland School Board voted early Tuesday to fire Middle School Principal Margaret L. (Peg) Frey, a move that her attorney later described as an "arbitrary and capricious" act that smacked of retaliation.
    After a closed session that lasted more than five hours and stretched to nearly 1 a.m., the board voted 4-3 to discharge the sixth-year principal for reasons that were not publicly stated in the meeting and that Superintendent Rolf Sivertsen refused to discuss later.
    "The Midland School District has always been, and will remain, committed to protecting the personal information of our employees and students," Sivertsen said in a brief statement issued Tuesday morning. "In addition, privacy laws prevent our district from releasing detailed information relating to personnel."
    But testimony by Sivertsen himself during a formal hearing that was part of that session, as well as other information, strongly indicated there was no valid reason for dismissal of a career educator just a year before her scheduled retirement, said Peoria attorney Jim Rochford, who represented Frey at the meeting and expects to do so in a likely future lawsuit.
    "We feel that the decision was arbitrary and capricious," Rochford said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "The evidence for the investigation was tainted, and we feel it was a rush to judgment by the superintendent, and perhaps retaliation against Mrs. Frey."
    Bernie Kargol of Lacon made the motion to discharge Frey, and it was seconded by board President Jenelle Colvin of Varna. Others supporting that step were Ryan Weber of Lacon and Tiona Kimble of Sparland, while it was opposed by Travis Guthman of rural Sparland and Marilyn Stickel and Dixie Wheeler, both of Lacon.
    The Midland district was formed through consolidation in 1995, and includes the Lacon, Sparland and Varna communities in the center of Marshall County.
    The allegations of retaliation stem partly from the outspoken public stance that Frey took on behalf of a longtime basketball coach that the board had tentatively planned to dismiss last fall, but then decided not to. Evidence indicates that Sivertsen was driving that effort and that Frey's opposition was a factor in seeking her dismissal, Rochford said.
    Frey also had clashed with the board previously on other issues since coming to Marshall County from Iowa in 2008. In 2010, for instance, Colvin sharply opposed a suggestion by Frey that cellphones be banned from student use in the middle school.
    The push for her dismissal apparently began Nov. 13, not long after the basketball coach episode, Rochford said. Sivertsen initially approached her by saying there had been a complaint from a parent about a student not getting enough ketchup packets, and that later became a "very convoluted" claim about Frey providing study guides to students for a state-mandated test, the attorney added.
    Page 2 of 2 - In fact, Frey had been volunteering time to help students in study sessions that had greatly improved test scores, and it was only after publicly crossing Sivertsen that the issue was raised, Rochford said.
    "It certainly was not enough to justify the dismissal of Mrs. Frey," Rochford said. "It was more about the superintendent being unhappy about her not supporting him."
    Sivertsen was told that the Journal Star would report on the allegations made by Frey's attorney in case he wanted to expand on the district statement. "I have no addition (sic) statements," he emailed in response.
    _____
    Gary L. Smith can be reached at (800) 516-0389 or glsmith@mtco.com. Read his Northern Circuit blog at pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @Glsmithx.
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