By Dedra Cordle
The South-Western City Schools Board of Education will not terminate the contract of an elementary school principal who was investigated for violating district policies.
At a special meeting held on Feb. 5, the board announced it had entered into a settlement agreement with Jenniffer Kauffeld, principal at Buckeye Woods Elementary School, which enables her to return to her administrative position. The action taken by the board will go into effect immediately.
Kauffeld has been on administrative leave since mid-November.
“Over the course of the past few months, the district administration and two different boards of education have spent significant time engaged in this personnel matter,” said Chris Boso, board president. “While the road leading up to tonight’s decision to reinstate the principal has been lengthy and emotional for all parties, as a board, we wanted to leave no stone unturned in terms of a timeline when it comes to matters impacting both employees and student supervision and welfare. Moving forward we intend to further define and clarify expectations for employees as we support student and family partnerships. We welcome back Mrs. Kauffeld to Buckeye Woods Elementary School starting tomorrow (Feb. 6).”
In November, an investigation into the conduct of Kauffeld, who has been the principal at the elementary school since 2011, was launched by the district after it learned of an incident that took place during school hours.
According to the investigative report that was provided by the district after a public records request was made, an educator at the school reported to Kauffeld their concerns about the welfare of a 5-year-old student.
The report stated that Kauffeld contacted the school nurse – who has not been publicly named by the district – and she performed a visual inspection of the student in the school health clinic with Kauffeld present in the room. Neither Kauffeld nor the school nurse obtained the consent of the parents before the visual inspection took place. The parents were only notified that the visual inspection had occurred after the fact and by the school nurse.
The investigative report also stated that neither Kauffeld nor the school nurse contacted county children services or law enforcement agencies with their concerns. A provision in the Ohio Revised Code legally requires some professionals to report known or suspected child abuse or neglect to a public children services agency or law enforcement agency – even with no physical proof or other ways to validate the abuse.
The parents of the student filed a police report with the Grove City Division of Police. A press release sent out by the division said that the investigator referred all case information to the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office. No charges have been filed.
The police department also notified the Ohio Board of Nursing and made a referral to the Ohio Department of Education and Franklin County Children Services.
The investigative report conducted by the district concluded that Kauffeld had “acted inconsistent with her job duties and training and her role as the principal of the building.” It also stated she did not follow board and district policies when she facilitated a “visual inspection” of the student “all without a guardian’s direct consent and in the absence of a medical emergency or necessity,” and when neither she nor the school nurse “contacted Children’s Services.”
The school nurse, who has been with the district since 2000, was also found by the district in the report to be in violation of the same policies. The school nurse sent the district a letter of resignation in December but revoked that resignation in January. The district could not provide a comment on any pending action regarding their employment.
After the investigative report had concluded, the superintendent recommended last month that the board consider the termination of Kauffeld’s new five-year contract that began on July 27, 2023. The board unanimously approved a motion to rescind the consideration of termination at the special meeting which allowed Kauffeld to resume her role at the school.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement that was reached between the board and Kauffeld, the board will deduct the gross total amount of $5,000 from Kauffeld’s annual compensation for the 2023-2024 contract year only. She will also be issued payment for the salary she would have earned when she was placed on unpaid administrative leave on Jan. 8 through the date of the rescission.
The board has also agreed that any public records regarding the resolution and supporting investigative records will not be kept in Kauffeld’s personnel file.
After the vote took place to reinstate Kauffeld to her position as principal of Buckeye Woods, the board said it will now shift its focus to explore whether current policies related to the reporting of suspected cases of child abuse or neglect should be clarified. State law considers school personnel to be mandated reporters.
The board will also explore the policies at surrounding school districts as it relates to a nurse’s scope of work and the handling of abuse and/or neglect cases when there is a medical concern. The board recommended that the superintendent, Dr. Bill Wise, be given time to review and research policies. They initially recommended that potential policy amendments be presented to the board within the next month. Wise said he could not make that commitment for the following month but believed it could be discussed in April.