Albert Lea High School counselor continuing on paid leave

Published 8:56 pm Tuesday, January 18, 2022

By Alex Guerrero

The Albert Lea High School counselor and girls basketball coach facing criminal charges will continue on paid administrative leave pending further district action. No action was taken by the board Tuesday night.

Richard Polley

“I really can’t comment any more because it’s an ongoing investigation,” Superintendent Mike Funk said after the board went into closed session about the situation.

RJ Polley, who also served as the girls basketball coach, was charged Friday in Freeborn County District Court with third-degree criminal sexual conduct, including penetration, of a student under 18. The charge involves a defendant in a prohibited occupational relationship with the victim.

This was Polley’s first year at the school and his first season as the head coach. His coaching duties have been assumed by an assistant.

According to online court records, Polley posted a non-cash bond Monday.  

Funk said he is leading the school district’s investigation into the matter.

Polley’s leave wasn’t the only big topic of concern during the school board meeting, and in his report to the board, Funk dedicated his time to talking about the roller-coaster that was student and staff attendance since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“We are nearing the peak of the most recent surge as part of the reports from the Mayo Clinic, which anticipate that it should peak for Minnesota,” he said. “It’s already peaking in some places out on the East Coast.”

He also noted that currently the number of cases in the district is the highest it has been.

Funk and his team also reduced quarantine, per CDC guidelines, to five days for students who don’t show symptoms and introduced a voluntary alternative to quarantine, meaning any student who has been exposed to COVID but hasn’t tested positive can continue attending school.

Students who test positive can also come back after five days provided they show a negative test. But if the test is positive, they’re out for 10 days.

“That’s a real good thing for our students,” he said.

Students who have two shots of the vaccine don’t need to quarantine.

Staff are considered vaccinated with two shots (Moderna or Pfizer) and a booster or a J and J shot with a booster.

Funk also expressed concerns over staffing and admitted to a shortage of substitute teachers, and it has gotten to the point where classes have had to move to the auditorium or cafeteria if only one teacher was available.

“We’re seeing a significant shortage in our support staff,” he said.

But despite the struggles, he was happy the district was still able to have in-person classes and said distance learning was not the best way to educate students. He said if one school had to go that route, in-person classes would still resume in other school buildings.

In other action:

Feb. 1 will mark the 100th day of school this year, an important landmark for primary schools.

And because February is “I love to Read Month,” Minnesota author Laura Perdy Salas has been invited to read at all four elementary schools.

Members of the board saw a presentation on the inclusion playground, a project developed by parents and special education advocates who have been working with city leaders that, when completed, will be an all-abilities space for children of all ages.

Board members recognized members of the ALHS cross-country team, who participated in the state’s team competition. Board members also recognized Funk, who was named superintendent of the year by the Minnesota School Board Association.    

In routine business, the board agreed to hire Cindy Shahan, Rubie Cuevas, Sue Srp, Steven Lenz, Laura Hall, Janet Modderman, Samantha Koppedryer, Christin Johnson, Laura Duffie-Evans and Ruth Relano. 

Members agreed to leaves of absence for Patricia Larson, Jennifer Walsh, Randi Matties, Catherine Baumann, Corey Rahn and Kelly Ferrie, and accepted the resignations of Greg McKane, Johanna Reyes and Carmen McColley.

Board members approved donations from Freeborn Mower Operation Roundup, Lunder Lutheran Church, the Alan B. Arends Revocable Trust, American Legion Auxilary Albert Lea, the Blackbund Giving Fund, Mightycause Charitable Foundation, Lukes Brothers Inc. and Round Prairie Lutheran Church Women for a total of $1,443.42.

Members approved bill payments of $1,371,911.43 for the general fund, $143,826.66 for food services, $648,941.26 for health services, $10,226.79 for student activities and $20.83 for the OPEB revocable trust.

School board members approved standing committee schedules for finance, facilities, policy and curriculum.

They also approved off-schedule hour wages, and agreed to dispose of 17 smartboards, 20 CR TVs, 14 computers, 14 monitors, three radios, 200 Chromebooks and a microwave because the equipment is obsolete, damaged beyond repair or was cannibalized for parts.

Members approved a 2022-23 school calendar with classes starting for students on Aug. 17 and ending May 23..