School board fires teacher for reportedly touching studentPublished 7:42am Tuesday, August 7, 2012
By Tim Engstrom and Kelli Lageson, staff writers
The Albert Lea school board fired a high school teacher Monday on the grounds that he inappropriately touched a student and lied to district investigators about it.
English teacher Sean Gillam last week withdrew a request for an employment hearing before an arbitrator and told district leaders he no longer would fight the board’s intentions to dismiss him, said Superintendent Mike Funk.
Gillam’s employment hearing was slated for today. A workshop had been planned for Monday but was changed to a special meeting to take action on the matter.
Gillam, 40, who resides in Northwood, could not be reached. A message was left on a phone the Tribune sports staff used to contact Gillam when he was the girls’ basketball coach.
Following a district investigation, the school board on May 7 behind closed doors proposed firing Gillam, kicking off the dismissal process. That process meant that Gillam had a right to an arbitration hearing. He had been on leave with pay since late January.
On the public side of the May 7 meeting, the board fired Gillam of his duties as the girls’ basketball coach, a position he held for four years.
Funk could not release details of the investigation, but a memorandum dated May 8 that the board sent to Gillam states: “While you claimed that no inappropriate contact occurred redacted by district] your denials were not credible.”
The May 8 memo to Gillam also states the teacher “engaged in insubordination by lying during the investigation despite receiving a Tennessen notice directing you to answer questions honestly.”
The resolution passed Monday firing him states he was fired on the grounds of:
• Immoral conduct.
• Persistent violation of school laws, rules, regulations or directives.
• Conduct unbecoming a teacher which requires the immediate removal of the teacher from classroom or other duties.
• Gross inefficiency which renders the teacher unfit to perform his duties.
The May memo lists the same grounds and tells Gillam he “admitted to several of these inappropriate behaviors.” It says the board does not have confidence that he will abide by “appropriate teacher-student boundaries” in the future.
Much of the memorandum telling exactly what the investigation found is redacted.
However, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation and the relationship, the teacher-student boundaries were crossed with a player on the girls’ basketball team in the forms of inappropriate texts and inappropriate touching. The Tribune is not printing the name of the player at the center of the case.
Funk said the Albert Lea Police Department was notified once district-level officials became aware of the relationship.
Gillam had been with the district since August 1999. His case, as required by state law, will be forwarded to the Minnesota Board of Teaching, an 11-member state panel that establishes rules for licensure of teachers, approval of teacher programs and ethics regarding professional conduct.
Board chairwoman Linda Laurie declined to comment on the firing.
Funk said the strong action by the school board shows its dedication to safe and welcoming schools.
“When was the last time you saw a school board do a full-bore termination in southern Minnesota? The board did the right thing,” he said.
He said district officials put hundreds and hundreds of hours into the case, and he said parents can be assured the district feels strongly about protecting children.