School district conducts investigation on Buckeye Woods principal

By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
Buckeye Woods staff and community members attended the Jan. 8 South-Western City Schools Board of Education meeting to show support for Principal Jenniffer Kauffeld, who is under investigation for violating board policy.

The South-Western City Schools Board of Education has placed the principal at Buckeye Woods Elementary School on unpaid administrative leave for reportedly violating district policies.

The motion to approve the recommendation by the district superintendent in regard to Jenniffer Kauffeld’s employment status was made at the Jan. 8 meeting. Its members also agreed to consider the termination of her new five-year contract that began on July 27, 2023.

District spokesman Evan Debo said considering a termination is a “two-pronged process” in which Kauffeld will be given the opportunity to have a hearing with either the board or an impartial referee to “review the facts of the investigation conducted by the district.” After the proceedings have taken place, it will then be determined whether sufficient cause exists to terminate her contract.

Debo was unable to give a time frame as to when a decision on the future employment of Kauffeld may be rendered.

“It can be a lengthy process,” said the district’s executive director of communications.

An investigation into the conduct of Kauffeld, who has been the principal at Buckeye Woods Elementary School since 2011, was launched after the district learned of an alleged incident that took place during school hours on Nov. 14.

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 states that Kauffeld contacted the school nurse, who is not being named at this time as they have not been charged with a crime or otherwise publicly identified by the district. The school nurse was not in the building at the time but came to the school after receiving the call from the principal. In an eight-page memorandum sent to the district by Kauffeld, she stated she did not consider the situation to be an emergency and told the school nurse that it could be addressed the following day.

According to the report, the school nurse 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 report also stated that neither Kauffeld nor the school nurse contacted county children services or local law enforcement agencies with any concerns. A provision in the Ohio Revised Code legally requires some professionals to report known or suspected child abuse and neglect to a public children services agency or law enforcement agency – even with no physical proof or other ways to validate the abuse.

The district said it immediately placed Kauffeld and the school nurse on paid administrative leave when they were told of the reported incident that took place.

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 as of Jan. 17.

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 district investigation into the reported actions of Kauffeld and the school nurse was completed last month. The district states in the report that it has concluded that Kauffeld had “acted inconsistent with her job duties and training and her role as the principal of the building” and that 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 last month but revoked that resignation after the Jan. 8 board meeting.

The district was not able to comment on any pending action regarding the employment of the school nurse.

During the meeting, the board appointed Timothy Barton to serve as the interim principal at Buckeye Woods Elementary. He has over three decades of experience as an educator and administrator and has also served as the principal at Alton Hall Elementary School and Galloway Ridge Intermediate School.

Also during the meeting, the board heard from the Buckeye Woods Elementary School community who came out to show their support for Kauffeld. Some in the packed room at the district service center waved signs urging the board to “Reinstate Jenniffer Kauffeld.”

Among the night’s speakers was Simone Amsden, a building substitute at the school. She said she has known and worked alongside Kauffeld for the last eight years and called her the “epitome of how an educator should perform and conduct themselves day-to-day.”

She praised Kauffeld for helping Buckeye Woods achieve recognition by the U.S. Department of Education with their Blue Ribbon Schools Program and also for improving student academic scores throughout her 12 years at the school.

Amsden asked the board to consider giving Kauffeld “a second chance.”

“You would be giving a second chance to someone who tried to protect a student,” she said. “Perhaps protocol was not properly addressed but let’s also be human and understand that no one is perfect and we all make mistakes. Mistakes are ultimately lessons that help us learn and grow to become better the next time around.”

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