Disciplinary charges against three Cheektowaga Central High School teachers accused of improper conduct with a former student awaiting trial on a murder charge will be resolved through a formal hearing.
“On Jan. 6, the board took action with regard to this matter. The matter is now in the hands of third parties,” attorney Jeffrey F. Swiatek, who represents the school district, said this week. The action was taken in an executive session, about which Swiatek declined to comment further.
The teachers, whose names haven’t been released, have been on paid suspension since late August, after town police met with the School Board about communication – mostly phone calls – between the teachers and Dontre Jones, a former student awaiting trial on a murder charge. In one conversation, a teacher identified someone who “snitched on” Jones, according to audio and transcripts released by police.
Police said the contact was “inappropriate” but didn’t break any laws.
Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, said Thursday that the action to which Swiatek referred is consistent with a section of state education law, which deals with disciplinary procedures and penalties for tenured district employees.
Under the law, a board must determine, within five days of receiving charges, whether probable cause exists to bring a disciplinary proceeding against an employee. That vote, which requires a majority of the entire board, must occur in executive session, Freeman said.
Four of the seven board members attended that executive session, according to minutes posted on the district’s website. Absent were board President Brian Gould, a lieutenant with the Cheektowaga Police Department; trustee Paul A. Nazzarett Jr., a Cheektowaga police officer; and trustee Christine L. Adamczyk.
Jones was in the Erie County Holding Center, awaiting trial in a May 2011 shooting death in Cheektowaga Town Park, when he spoke with teachers via calls made to students’ cellphones during school hours. One of the teachers, a man, also had contact with Jones while working as a sheriff’s deputy at the holding center.
After learning about those conversations, the School Board ordered an investigation. Swiatek said the investigation was delayed when attorneys for one of the teachers sought a court order to seal recordings of the telephone conversations. The probe is now completed.
A judge denied that request in October, and several weeks later police released audio and transcripts.
“The board’s role has been completed in regard to this initial phase,” Swiatek said.
Under state education law, disciplinary charges must be brought within three years of the date the alleged infraction occurred. The employee may be suspended, with pay, pending a hearing.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the School Board, Gould sought to reassure residents who have spoken out about unresolved issues. But he didn’t specifically address the teachers’ case.
“It’s a very long, cumbersome process,” Gould said. “We don’t take these things lightly.”
Jones, now 20, was found guilty of manslaughter in the death of Ira Watkins Jr., 19, of Buffalo, last spring. In September, he began a 25-year sentence in the Great Meadow Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Comstock.