GMG elementary teacher placed on paid administrative leave

Green Mountain-Garwin Elementary School in Green Mountain pictured on Wednesday, Feb. 21. SUN COURIER FILE PHOTO

GREEN MOUNTAIN – A Green Mountain-Garwin (GMG) elementary teacher has been placed on paid administrative leave.

According to Central Rivers AEA Chief Joel Pedersen, who acted as GMG Interim-Superintendent from Jan. 11 through Feb. 14, the teacher, who is not being identified as no criminal charges have been filed against them, “was put on paid administrative leave” at some point during Pedersen’s tenure. Pedersen declined to answer any further questions.

On Wednesday, in an email sent to GMG parents titled “Important Information for all Families,” GMG Elementary Principal Stacey Busch wrote: “About three weeks ago, a staff member was placed on administrative leave based upon a complaint alleging inappropriate behavior. The district took immediate action and requested a full investigation of the complaint by a qualified outside investigator. It is important to report that as a result of the investigation, the investigator determined that the complaint was unfounded. While this investigation takes place, the staff member involved will continue to be on administrative leave.”

The previous day, on Feb. 20, GMG Interim-Superintendent Gary Sinclair told Tama-Grundy Publishing/T-R in an email that the employee is currently on paid administrative leave. Sinclair’s message was sent in response to an inquiry on the employment status of the teacher, who currently holds an Initial License from the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners.

Level One Investigator’s Report

On Feb. 5, 2024, a rural Toledo resident filed a civil petition in Tama County District Court against the teacher. During a hearing held on Feb. 15, the petition was dismissed with prejudice – meaning it cannot be refiled.

A copy of a Level One Investigator’s Report filed on Jan. 26, 2024, is included as part of the court filings in the civil case. The teacher is listed as the ‘accused school employee’ in the report, which was prepared by Level One Investigator Anne Morgan, retired Davis County Community School District superintendent.

In the GMG Preschool and Elementary Parent/Student Handbook for 2023-24 under ‘Investigation of Child Abuse By A School Employee,’ the primary investigator for the Green Mountain (Elementary) building is listed as Elementary Principal Stacey Busch, while the alternate investigator is listed as Secondary Principal Jaimie Gargas.

Morgan’s report is dated Feb. 1, 2024; she indicates that the written complaint was given to the school district and dated Friday, Jan. 26, 2024.

Morgan writes, “As an independent contractor, I was contacted to do the Level 1 investigation. The complainant and target were interviewed by me on Monday, Jan. 29, 2024. The accused was interviewed by me on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024.”

The report indicates that “during or as a result of the investigation,” the teacher was placed on leave, but no leave date is provided.

Following Morgan’s investigation, the complaint was dismissed for “lack of jurisdiction” with the box checked for “Sexual abuse alleged, but the alleged actions of the school employee, even if true, would not meet the definition of sexual abuse in the rules.”

Morgan was given four options in describing the current status of the investigation including:

*Closed. No further investigation is warranted.

*Closed and referred to school officials for further investigation as a personnel matter.

*Deferred temporarily to law enforcement.

*Turned over to Level Two investigator.

The box for “Closed and referred to school officials for further investigation as a personnel matter” was checked.

According to the report, the allegations included the following:

-The target and complainant listed occasions of the accused hugging the target.

-The accused asked the target to eat lunch with the accused and then inquired another time if the target was going to ask to eat with the accused.

-When the target appeared sad at lunch one day, the accused visited the target with only the two of them present.

-The target said the accused gave the target a bracelet.

-The target said that the accused had mentioned to the target one day that the target’s outfit fit “‘very well.”

In response, the teacher:

-Admitted to giving one-arm hugs to students and indicated initiating a one-arm hug with the target one time.

-Indicated being asked by students to eat with them for lunch and “routinely then lets students eat with (the teacher)” with up to three students at a time. The teacher had asked the target if the target wanted to eat with the teacher.

-Admitted visiting the target after the target indicated being upset about something.

-Admitted giving the target a bracelet.

-Admitted telling the target the teacher liked the target’s new sweatshirt but denied saying the target looked good in the outfit and adding that (the teacher) commonly comments to students about liking sweatshirts they wear.

Under “Other Comments,” Morgan wrote, “While the allegations do not rise to the definition in Iowa Code for sexual abuse, I understand the parent’s concern when looking at the totality of the allegations. The allegations could be considered as early stages of grooming. In my referral to administration to address as a personnel matter, I will make suggestions to administration.”

As of press time, the teacher continues to be listed on GMG’s website as part of the elementary staff directory.

Because the elementary school is located in Green Mountain, the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office has jurisdiction over a criminal inquiry — which is entirely separate from the Level One report — and Sheriff Joel Phillips told Tama-Grundy Publishing/T-R the findings of his department’s investigation have been forwarded to the Marshall County Attorney for prosecution review as of Wednesday evening.

Phillips also said his investigator had scheduled an interview with the teacher, but the teacher’s attorney subsequently informed authorities that the teacher would no longer be participating.

In an email sent Thursday morning, Marshall County Attorney Jordan Gaffney said he had no further comment on the matter at the present time.