Suffern Central School District’s Suspended Superintendent Douglas Adams Sues District to have Outside Council Removed From Hearings

Suffern Central School District’s Suspended Superintendent Douglas Adams Sues District to have Outside Council Removed From Hearings

Three of the Five Initial Charges Against Adams Revealed, Two Remaining Charges are Outlined in an Exhibit

 

Suspended Suffern Central School District (SCSD) Superintendent Dr. Douglas Adams has filed an eleventh hour lawsuit against the Board of Education of The Suffern Central School District Board, outside counsel Shaw, Perelson, May & Lambert, David S. Shaw, Esq., and Elizabeth A. Ledkovsky, Esq. 

Adams was suspended in March of 2019 and had five departmental charges filed against him by the board.  Although he publicly stated that he wanted the hearings to be open to the public, he declined to reveal the charges and the District was prohibited from disclosing them. This has led to speculation and allegations of an agenda and wrongdoing on the part of a number of SCSD Board members.   This latest filing may further delay the hearing which is costing the taxpayers $20,366.66/month plus benefits. As of today November 20, 2019 the amount paid to Adams since his suspension stands at approximately $171,637.98 plus benefits.

Adams’ lawsuit seeks the removal of the District’s outside counsel for employment and labor relations, Shaw, Perelson, May & Lambert citing conflicts of interest.  Adams claims that he sought and acted upon legal advice via the District’s outside legal counsel and that by the same firm representing the District in the hearings against him that are set to begin on November 25th, there is a serious conflict of interest. 

The court filings include a 22 page Summons and Complaint and a 20 page Affirmation in Support.  There are 56 exhibits and Adams’ Affidavit in Support the total of which comprise another 201 pages.  The exhibits include communications, and various agreements.

Included in the summons and complaint are details regarding three of the initial five departmental charges filed against Adams. The two additional departmental charges are briefly mentioned in one of the Exhibits however the exact wording of these charges wasn’t disclosed. 

CHARGE I

Despite knowledge of complaints against a (Pedagogical Employee) received by the Superintendent of Schools as early as in the fall of 2017 and as recently as during the months of January and February 2019, the Superintendent failed to effectively supervise or implement DASA and Title IX processes to assure the safety and/or well-being of female students at the Suffern High School.

CHARGE II

During the months of January and/or February 2019 the Superintendent failed to recommend an investigation to determine whether or not Education Law Section 3020-a disciplinary proceedings should be commenced against the (Pedagogical Employee) to address alleged violations of DASA and Title IX, when instead he supported issuance of a counseling memo.

CHARGE IV

During the months of December 2018 and/or January 2019 and/or February 2019 the Superintendent of Schools obstructed  the efforts of the Board of Education to secure a special audit of the cost implications of the 2019-2023 contract settlement reached with the Suffern Education Association that was voted upon on November 20, 2018.

The suit does not reveal departmental charges III or V however one of the exhibits refers to Adams as having “failed to provide the Board of Education with requested economic data and comparative data when placing for a Board vote at it’s November 20, 2018 meeting, a proposed four year agreement with the Suffern Education Association…”

It was assumed that one of the charges may have been related to the Superintendent’s alleged failure to sign a BOCES CoSer agreement for a cyber security audit of the SCSD’s computer systems because of allegations of a security breach made by a District parent.  This alleged departmental charge seems to be confirmed by the same exhibit. 

As a result of the cyber-security investigation, 15 additional departmental charges were levied against Adams.  Although the exact nature of each of these additional charges is not known, it’s believed that the majority, if not all of these charges are related to the alleged illegal recording of Executive Session which is a felony. Adams and his attorney feel that the cyber security investigation was conducted beyond the initial scope that was outlined in the original CoSer agreement.

The lawsuit and the supporting exhibits raise some interesting questions.  

One portion of the suit states: ”Charges were brought by the BOARD, and it us (sic) unknown when they were drafted as ADAMS never attended any BOARD meeting wherein charges were discussed.”  

If these meetings were indeed illegally recorded, Adams may very well have known that charges were coming.  Adams filed a complaint with the Commissioner of the New York State Education Department against the former SCSD Board President on March 5, 2019 which was two days immediately prior to his suspension.

The allegations of inappropriate conduct by the pedagogical employee and a female student at Suffern High School go back to at least 2017.  It has been alleged that there was inappropriate contact between a male teacher and a female student.  When the student graduated the physical contact allegedly escalated.  The teacher/coach resigned his coaching position at the end of January 2019 but not his teaching position.  He had initially been out on paid administrative leave since the end of January, 2019. He is now out on a paid suspension while the charges against him are heard.

As referred to in Adams lawsuit, a (highly respected) SCSD parent approached Dr. Adams in November 2017 and discussed concerns about the pedagogical employee.  Through investigation and discussions with a number of people, we have learned that this discussion took place between this person and Adams during an athletic competition.

Charge I alleges that action wasn’t taken by Adams to investigate this complaint.

In June of 2018, prior to three new SCSD Board members taking office, the pedagogical employee in question was unanimously approved by the previous Board as an assistant varsity girls basketball coach. 

Matthew Kern Tried to Sound the Alarm, Sarah Kern had to Deal with the Aftermath

In September of 2018 an unusual agenda item showed up.  

There were two Professional Personnel Reports on the agenda, item 2.01 is listed as the Professional Personnel Report while item 2.02 is listed as the Professional Personnel Report Addendum. The first Professional Personnel Report included the names of substitute teachers, District employees and their stipends for various duties performed over and above  what they were hired to do including department chairs, extra curricular activities advisors, performing arts directors, etc.  There are two separate documents attached to agenda item 2.01.

Listed as a completely separate agenda item, 2.02, was the appointment of the now-suspended teacher as the head coach of the girls varsity basketball team.  Board member Matthew Kern pulled this specific item off of the consent agenda.  When a vote was held, the coaching appointment passed with five yay votes, Kern’s nay vote and with Paul Shapiro abstaining.  

Allegations against the teacher/coach came to light on January 28th.  Sarah Kern, the highly regarded Chair of the Guidance Department at Suffern High School spoke with the three female victims and a report was taken by the Ramapo Police School Resource Officer assigned to Suffern High School.

An email dated January 30, 2019 from the former SCSD Board President to Adams seems to show that despite an objection raised by Kern which is assumed to have been made in Executive Session back in September 2018, Adams appears to have recommended the teacher for the head coaching position despite the allegations that were allegedly made directly to Adams almost ten months previously. 

The email states:

“Dr. Adams, 

Assuming from what we are hearing from the community that this resignation is related to concerns previously expressed by our colleague, Matthew Kern, prior to your recommendation to the Board of Education to appoint the coach for this season, I have questions and serious concerns:

  1. It is my understanding that (redacted) was present at Suffern High School today.  How and why is that allowed?
  2. Who is conducting an investigation on the (redacted) and when?
  3. Is a DASA violation involved?”

The email goes on to state that the issue would be discussed at a Board meeting the following day and that as it involved personnel and labor relations matters, attorney David Shaw was cc’d.

Other documents filed as exhibits provide an inside glimpse into what happened as the situation unfolded including the fact that Suffern High School administrators conducted a DASA investigation and sought advice and that Adams consulted with Shaw numerous times regarding the contents of the “voluntary paid administrative leave” letter.  This letter was not sent to the former girl’s varsity basketball head coach until February 6, 2019.

On April 2, 2019 Elizabeth Ledkovsky of Shaw, Perelson, May & Lambert read a statement at the SCSD Board meeting about the Title IX investigation:

“Thank you madam President.

In early February the Board of Education called upon the District’s Title IX and DASA compliance officers together with me as a legal advisor  to review a matter involving a number of alleged instances of misconduct in the nature of discrimination on the basis of sex.

During the ensuing eight weeks, an extensive investigation was conducted involving interviews of 41 individuals including students, parents, administrators and other members of the faculty and staff.

The details of the resulting 150 or so page investigative report which are confidential, have been presented to the Board for it’s further review.

In the course of this investigation, we found an additional allegation of the nature of sexual harassment had been previously brought to the attention of certain administrators but that investigations of those allegations had not been carried through to completion.

The failure to clearly implement protocols informed by statutory and regulatory provisions caused the neglect of certain personnel matters and student concerns that are now being addressed by the District.

We have identified opportunities for corrective measures with a goal towards implementing best practices.  We also have decided to undertake further investigation of the prior allegations toward the goal of ensuring that the District makes good on its commitment to protecting all of its students and fostering a safe and healthy educational environment.

Thank you”

This statement is briefly mentioned in paragraph 46 of Adams’ Affidavit in Support.

Most troubling is the allegation in paragraph 47 of Adams’ sworn Affidavit in Support.  

In paragraph 47 of Adams’ sworn Affidavit of Support he states:

“On April 3, 2019 Lisa Weber told me that she disagreed with LEDKOVSKY’s presentation of the report and said that it provided damning information to the public and withheld exculpatory information.  It was my belief, confirmed by Weber, that LEDKOVSKY only shared information that justified the actions taken by the BOARD in suspending me a month earlier.”

If Adams’ claim is true, Lisa Weber’s alleged disclosure of what could possibly be deemed to be confidential information obtained as the District’s Title IX coordinator to Adams, twenty seven days after Adams was on paid suspension, is troubling. 

Shaw, Perelson, May & Lambert contends that there is no conflict of interest in part because they represented the SCSD and not Adams personally.  

Screenshots of the lawsuit and the various exhibits will be uploaded soon.


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