Former Denfeld High School principal Tonya Sconiers’ termination letter lays out multiple reasons for termination, from misusing sick leave to violating a collective bargaining agreement. Sconiers' lawsuit claims it's all a cover for retaliation.
The letter, dated July 29 and obtained by the News Tribune through a data request, is three pages long. It states that the Duluth School Board approved Sconiers' termination based on the grounds of “immoral character, conduct unbecoming a principal, insubordination, failure without justifiable cause to act as a principal and inefficiency in the management of a school.”
The lawsuit filed Monday by Sconiers refutes the reasons for termination, claiming the district is retaliating against her for speaking up against district administrators.
The first reason for termination stated in the letter is “insubordination by violating the district’s directive to notify the assistant superintendent if there would be more than one school day delay between the day a student enrolled and informed the district he was homeless, and the day the student would begin school.”
The letter claims a student was scheduled for an enrollment meeting on April 25 but it was delayed and Sconiers was emailed about this. She was also emailed by the district’s Families in Transition coordinator indicating that a delay would violate the MnKinney-Vento Act, which provides certain protections to homeless students, the letter claims.
The letter claims the student was enrolled on a Wednesday but could not attend school until the following Monday because a schedule was not created. The letter also claims Sconiers admitted she does not read all of her emails the day she receives them, which “does not excuse failure to comply with a directive.”
Sconiers' lawsuit claims she believed the student had been successfully enrolled so she moved on to other matters.
The letter also claims that Sconiers violated the district’s collective bargaining agreement with the Duluth Federation of Teachers union by overloading a special education teacher, by scheduling them to teach two sections of English solo, when the classes were originally co-taught. The letter claims Sconiers requested the teacher to be double paid for the two classes, rather than having a substitute hired to co-teach the class as it was originally intended to be. The teacher did not have a license in that subject area, according to the letter.
Sconiers claimed in her lawsuit that the school district's human resources director Tim Sworsky approved the “requisition in March 2019 and the Denfeld teachers wanted the assignments – in part because the students in that English classroom were not getting consistent teaching, with different subs in and out of the classroom every few days.”
The third basis of termination given was that Sconiers misused a sick day to travel to Madison, Wis., to attend her child’s graduation, which was the next day.
Sconiers requested sick leave on the day in question, the letter claims. After the district received information that Sconiers was not sick and was driving to Madison for her child’s graduation, the district interviewed other people who said they knew Sconiers was not going to be in school that day, the letter states.
Sconiers' lawsuit claims she was sick and showed a screenshot of a text conversation with a colleague on May 9 where she told that colleague she would see them the next day in school.
Finally, the letter claims Sconiers lied to administration on multiple occasions. According to the letter, Sconiers told superintendent Bill Gronseth on May 15, 17 and 20, that Denfeld’s Continuous Improvement Team (CIT) discussed and approved a staffing budget that included two dean positions for the 2019-20 school year.
The letter claims members of the CIT didn’t discuss the positions until May 24 and were not asked their opinion regarding the positions. They considered the discussions to be informational. Each school in the district has a CIT, which consists of community members, parents and staff.
The letter says because of Sconiers' “repeated misrepresentations have eroded the trust of the district’s administration” and her conduct “constitutes immoral character, conduct unbecoming a principal, and inefficiency in management of the school.”
Sconiers claims in her lawsuit that the CIT discussed the two new positions for weeks and had even come up with position descriptions.
Sconiers originally exercised her right to put the termination on hold pending a hearing but withdrew her request for arbitration on Monday when the lawsuit was filed.
The school district has 21 days from when the lawsuit was filed to file its response with the court.