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APS terminates music teacher Spondike’s contract

6/19/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Ariel Hakim and Becky Tompkins

David Spondike
Photo courtesy of Akron Public Schools
DOWNTOWN AKRON — David Spondike will not be teaching music at Firestone High School any longer.

At a special Akron Public Schools (APS) Board of Education meeting June 16, board members voted 6-0 to accept the report of referee Lee Skidmore, of Skidmore & Hall Co., L.P.A., of Medina, concluding that the APS had proven “by a preponderance of evidence” that Spondike’s conduct this past October violated the APS’ professional conduct rules.

“The referee determined that [our] reason to terminate is good and has just cause,” said Superintendent David James.

Spondike, a teacher at Firestone High School, has been suspended from teaching since Oct. 28, the day after he posted an angry message using a racial epithet on his Facebook page after an episode during Halloween trick-or-treating the day before at his Copley house.

Upon learning a juvenile had exposed himself and urinated on a telephone pole across the street from his house, Spondike became angry and made the initial post, according to the referee’s report. Although the post was removed within an hour or two, according to the report, it was widely forwarded, including to news media outlets.

According to Skidmore’s report, Spondike notified Firestone Principal LaVonne Humphrey the day following the incident that his Facebook postings had caused some negative reactions.

“Phone calls were pouring in from angry parents, community members and reporters” the morning of Oct. 28, according to the report.

Due to the disruption caused and also for his own personal safety, Spondike was removed from the school that day, according to the report.

Spondike later posted a YouTube video in which a friend took responsibility for the content of the initial Facebook post.

However, Spondike sent a letter to the school board and administrators Nov. 21 in which he took responsibility for the original and follow-up postings, which, he said, “were done in a moment of anger and with unnecessary haste.” That letter provided Spondike’s position on the matter in lieu of his participation in an investigative hearing that had been scheduled for Nov. 21, according to Mark Williamson, APS director of communications.

In the letter, Spondike also said he believed he had the right to use such language to express his feelings and he had sought professional counseling for anger management.

Following a closed hearing with Spondike Dec. 2, board members voted Dec. 9 to notify Spondike by letter of the board’s intent to consider termination of his teaching contract, the first step in his due process under Ohio law, according to APS legal counsel Rhonda Porter.

After receiving that letter, Spondike was allowed to request a hearing with a neutral third-party referee, Porter said. The board had the option of accepting or not accepting the referee’s recommendation, according to Porter. That hearing was held May 20 and 21, with Skidmore as referee.

Skidmore, who was chosen from three names supplied by the state for the board and agreed to by Spondike, concluded there is “good and just cause” to terminate the longtime teacher.

Testimony on APS’ behalf came from several district higher-ups, including Humphrey; Tod Wammes, labor relations manager; Kathy McVey, executive director of human resources; Mark Black, executive director of secondary education; and Carla Sibley, director of community relations.

Erich Merkle, Ph.D., staff psychologist for the board, also provided testimony, according to the referee’s report.

The June 12 report also noted information on Spondike’s background, notably that he has had a “mixed history” with APS, including both excellent reviews and past disciplinary issues.

Spondike, who has taught at Firestone since 1998, testified during the hearing that he had over 500 Facebook “friends,” including some current and former students.

Four former students and the mother of a former student also testified as to Spondike’s exceptional teaching ability. Michael Swan, a fellow APS music teacher, also spoke on Spondike’s behalf, according to the report.

Ultimately, Skidmore’s recommendation was based on several items, including that Spondike’s postings contained “inflammatory, derogatory and racial comments referencing children ‘from the ghetto’ trick-or-treating in his neighborhood,” and included a racial epithet. According to the report, Spondike’s conduct this past fall violated the district’s social media policies, specifically in sections relating to professional behavior and professional relationships with students, in addition to staff conduct rules “by the use of vulgar, profane or other disrespectful or racist language.”

Spondike did not return a call seeking comment by presstime. However, Kevin Breen, Spondike’s attorney, said June 16 before the board’s meeting that the decision was so recent he was still going through the referee’s report and recommendation.

“We strongly disagree with the arbitrator’s opinion,” he said.

With the board’s decision, Spondike is terminated immediately, said Porter, unless he chooses to appeal. He has 30 days once he receives a copy of the resolution to appeal to the Summit County Common Pleas Court, she said, as the next step in his due process rights.

“My expectation is that we will appeal,” said Breen June 17.

The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for June 23 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sylvester Small Administration Building, 70 N. Broadway St.

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