The stunning revelations the past two weeks of a legal settlement involving allegations of inappropriate conduct by members of the Danville D118 school board has garnered the community’s rapt attention.
The saga arose when two board members — Lon Henderson and William “Bill” Dobbles — unexpectedly resigned their elected positions during a board meeting on Sept. 8. Neither provided any reasonable explanation for their sudden departures, leaving the public to wonder and speculate as to what was happening with the district’s leadership group.
A couple other issues were handled during the meeting, however, that would later shed light on the matter. Settlements were approved between the school board and members of the administration and staff, including Superintendent Alicia Geddis, to resolve what were called ongoing disputes. No further explanation was given. The board also acted to approve a new five-year contract for Geddis. Henderson, who was re-elected to another term earlier this year, did not attend the meeting, and Dobbles, who had two years remaining on his term, left after voting against the settlements.
With very little clarity as to what had happened, the Commercial-News submitted a public records request seeking details about the settlements. When we received the first batch of records a little more than two weeks ago, the bombshells had landed. The board had agreed to pay out more than $600,000 to Geddis and an administrative staff member who had triggered investigations into inappropriate conduct by Henderson. Part of the settlement also included the resignation of Henderson and Dobbles, and a new contract for the superintendent. Dobbles’ role in the matter involved his perceived lack of response to the claims by Geddis and staff members concerning Henderson’s alleged inappropriate conduct, and claims that he was acting in a retaliatory manner toward those bringing the complaints against Henderson.
Bluntly speaking, the board found itself in a mess of its own making. It has only itself to blame, and we certainly can’t fault the board for cutting its losses and settling the matter so that the district can get on with the important business of educating students and providing a safe and secure learning environment for students during these trying times.
That a settlement was reached is telling. Rather than having the district sued and entangled in a lengthy and expensive legal battle, the board was likely advised by its legal counsel that its liability in the matter was high and the risk of an even worse outcome was great. Workplace law has evolved to the point that those who are harassed or subjected to inappropriate conduct have more avenues through which to pursue their complaints. Their issues are, thankfully, taken seriously. Entities, public or private, must respond to complaints and take action to protect the rights of their workers.
No one employed in any position should ever have to tolerate a hostile work environment. An employee should be able to do work and earn a paycheck without harassment of any kind from co-workers, supervisors or those who have power over them or their employment status.
That this may have been occurring in Danville’s school district is disappointing and disturbing. What’s more, it is unacceptable.
Danville D118 is now filling the vacancies created by the forced resignations. To those departing board members, the community should bid good riddance. Their replacements will surely represent a significant upgrade.