Disciplinary letters released Friday reveal that two former Sentinel High School administrators were suspended because they engaged in an "inappropriate relationship" while on duty on school grounds.
However, one of the former principals has gone to court to block any further release of her employee and disciplinary records by Missoula County Public Schools.
Libby Oliver, who formerly served as assistant principal at Sentinel and now holds the same position at Hellgate High School, filed the injunction request in Missoula County District Court on Dec. 17.
In her motion, Oliver asks the court to ultimately find the records in question private and thus restrain MCPS from fulfilling the Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Missoulian on Dec. 10 under Montana law regarding public records.
Oliver also seeks a temporary restraining order preventing MCPS from releasing the records before the court can rule on the merits of the Missoulian’s request.
“Oliver’s constitutional right of privacy is at stake and should not be compromised until the court is able to fully consider the information at issue, balance Oliver’s right of privacy with the public’s right to know, and render a decision on the merit of the Missoulian’s request,” Oliver argues in her motion.
Oliver is represented by Datsopoulos, MacDonald and Lind of Missoula.
In August, MCPS suspended Oliver and Sentinel High School Principal Tom Blakely for reasons it wouldn’t disclose. The district classified the move as a personnel issue and said only that the administrators had violated a district policy regarding staff ethics.
No other information has been given by the district or its Board of Trustees. Blakely ultimately resigned from MCPS and will earn $90,000 through June 30. Oliver was reassigned to Hellgate.
This month, the Missoulian filed a records request with MCPS seeking further disclosure. The request seeks records relating to any findings of misconduct by the two administrators during the 2014 calendar year. Such records are considered public documents under state law because they involve a finding of misconduct.
The newspaper's request also seeks administrative notes regarding the district’s investigation into misconduct by Oliver and Blakely. MCPS had intended to produce the requested records on Dec. 18, but was blocked by Oliver’s motion with the court.
“Public disclosure and dissemination of the information would produce a great and irreparable injury to Oliver’s personal and professional life,” the motion reads. “Oliver ... seeks herein to restrain MCPS from producing information responsive to the Missoulian’s request which would violate Oliver’s constitutional right of privacy.”
Oliver did not object to the district’s move to release the letters of reprimand written by Superintendent Alex Apostle to Oliver and Blakely.
However, her attorneys argue that the letters provide “sufficient detail about MCPS’s findings of misconduct and the basis for Oliver’s suspension.”
Written on Aug. 26, Apostle stated that Blakely admitted that he had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with another school employee while on duty on school property. It does not say when the relationship took place or who that employee was.
“Engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a staff member subordinate to you while on duty and on school property violates Policy 5224 and reveals a lack of judgment as an administrator for the district,” Apostle wrote. “Your inappropriate behavior undermines your effectiveness as a leader and supervisor.”
The policy states that all district employees are expected to maintain high standards in their school relationships, demonstrate integrity and maintain professional relationships with staff members.
Apostle suspended Blakely for five working days and without pay from Aug. 29 through Sept. 4. Blakely later resigned as principal, receiving the balance of his contract.
Apostle issued a similar letter to Oliver. In that letter, Apostle stated that Oliver initially denied having an inappropriate relationship with another district employee.
“Although you initially denied such relationship, you ultimately admitted that you engaged in an inappropriate relationship with another school employee while on duty and on school property,” Apostle wrote. “Your initial denial of such relationship indicates a failure to demonstrate honesty and to cooperate.”
Oliver was also placed on administrative leave. She was later reassigned as assistant principal at Hellgate.