Three veteran teachers at Rim Country Middle School have been placed on administrative leave by Principal Frank Larby.
Science teacher Gloria Joe, counselor Ginger Sparks and English teacher Louis Crabtree were notified of the action by Larby Tuesday, and their five-day leaves with pay began Wednesday. The action was triggered by incidents that occurred Friday at RCMS.
Joe and Sparks were placed on leave for remarks that were critical of next year's schedule at a faculty meeting last Friday. In the letter given to Joe, Larby wrote, "It is alleged that you have engaged in the harassment of other staff members (your supervisor), unprofessional conduct, demonstrating improper attitudes and insubordination towards the administration."
With the semester ending next week, Joe, a teacher at RCMS for 25 years, questioned the timing of the action.
"What I am upset about is that now my kids will have five days of a (substitute) instead of doing what I wanted them to do, and they're not getting as good of an education as they would have," she said.
Joe said she tried to apologize to Larby after the meeting when she realized he had taken her criticism of the schedule as a personal attack.
"It was a heartfelt apology and it really blew me away that he didn't accept it," she said.
Crabtree was placed on leave for remarks he allegedly made to an unidentified person in the school gymnasium on Friday.
The 20-year middle school veteran confirmed that he was placed on leave, but declined to discuss the charges on the advice of the Arizona Education Association, which is currently processing a grievance against Larby on behalf of several RCMS teachers.
According to Larby's letters to the three teachers, Payson Unified School District Superintendent Herb Weissenfels will conduct an investigation to determine the facts. At the conclusion of the investigation, Weissenfels will decide what penalties, up to and including contract termination, will be assessed.
Weissenfels declined to comment on "an internal employee matter," but did say the administrative leave could be shorter or longer than five days.
"We want to do it as quickly as we can so we don't interrupt the educational process any more than necessary," he said. "All efforts are being made to make sure people are being treated fairly and appropriately."
PUSD Board President Viki Holmes declined to comment.
Larby is in Florida attending a conference and assistant principal Tim Fruth declined to comment.
Sparks, who was told for the first time at the RCMS faculty meeting that she would be teaching rather than counseling next year, emphasized that the three teachers were not suspended.
"We are on paid administrative leave pending Mr. Weissenfels' investigation, and that is to ensure that there is no communication, no tainting of witnesses, that kind of thing," she said. "I've heard people in the community already saying we were suspended, and that really makes me angry."
Sparks said the problem goes beyond the events of last Friday.
"This is just the culmination of years of abuse that we've had to endure," she said. "I feel so disrespected. I've been in this district for 21 years. No one has ever said to us, ‘Great work at the middle school. You're the highest performing school in Gila County. Great work.' No one has said that to us. Not our board. No one."