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July 21, 2019

7/9/2019 7:30:00 AM
School district complies with River News open records request
Releases name of teacher whose contract was renewed in May
Jamie Taylor and Heather Schaefer
of the River News

The School District of Rhinelander Board of Education held a special meeting May 13 to continue work on the district's five-year strategic plan. At the end of the meeting, the board went into closed session to hold a hearing at the request of teacher Anthony Klein who was appealing a notice of non-renewal of employment for the 2019-20 school year.

According to the meeting minutes, the vote to renew the contract was 4-2, with David Holperin, Ann Munninghoff Eshelman, Ben Roskoskey and Ron Lueneburg voting "aye" and Judy Conlin and Ron Counter voting "nay." Mary Peterson, Mike Roberts and Duane Frey were absent from the meeting.

When contacted by the River News May 14, district superintendent Kelli Jacobi would say only that an employee contract was renewed. Because the vote happened in closed session, and citing privacy and confidentiality, she would not release the name of the employee involved.

By law, the news media is not allowed to sit in on closed session discussions, however the River News had good reason to believe that the teacher involved was Klein, who was found earlier this spring under the influence of drugs at a location off school property. When asked if the teacher in question was Klein, Jacobi said she would not confirm or deny. 

According to online court records, Klein, 33, a fourth grade teacher at Central Intermediate School, pled not guilty to one count of possession of a narcotic drug, a felony, and two misdemeanor counts of possession of a controlled substance at his arraignment May 20. He was arrested March 27 after a gas station clerk reported seeing "a very lethargic male customer" in a vehicle outside the store. At that point, the school district also put Klein on paid administrative leave.

He is free on a $500 signature bond pending a pre-trial conference set for July 16.

After a local media broadcast outlet began reporting that the individual whose contract the board had renewed was Klein, the River News asked Jacobi to confirm whether the report was accurate, Jacobi again stated she would not confirm or deny.

Later the same day, the River News reached out to Jacobi in writing to express concern over the sequence of events and request a clarification. Specifically, the newspaper explained that members of public, including the parents of children who will be assigned to this professional employee, have no way of knowing whether the school administration and board members handled this appeal appropriately or whether they can feel comfortable leaving their children in this individual's care. 

When asked to confirm whether the broadcast report was accurate, Jacobi again stated she would not confirm or deny.

In the same conversation, Jacobi also said a review had taken place and it had been determined that the vote had taken place in open session not closed session.

She also indicated the district did not consider this matter a safety issue. 

"There are various reasons for non-renewals," she wrote to the River News. "This non-renewal was based on performance not safety issues or any ongoing legal action. The Board did not include a name in the motion, and that person has asked that I not release their name. I am reaching out to our legal counselor for his direction."

On June 5, the River News received a formal response from Jacobi acknowledging the receipt of the newspaper's open records request.

In a letter dated June 26 that included confirmation that the teacher was, in fact, Klein, along with the minutes from the closed session and a copy of Klein's 2019-20 acceptance of the renewed contract dated May 31, Jacobi said the delay in providing the documents was due to the district's requirement to provide Klein notice that the newspaper had requested the records.

"The notice was provided to the individual and the deadline for a response from him has expired," Jacobi wrote in the letter.

The notice of contract renewal states that Klein will teach at Pelican Elementary School in the upcoming term, and that he was to report to Crescent to "close out the year and pack for the move."

His paid administrative leave ran through June 7.

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