CHMS Principal Suspended Through July
The specifics of Griffin Sonntag's "inappropriate conduct" were withheld by District 181, but the principal's lawyer said his client "absolutely respects" the school board's decision.
The Community Consolidated School District 181 Board of Education Thursday voted 5-2 in favor of a resolution to immediately suspend Clarendon Hills Middle School (CHMS) Principal Griffin Sonntag without pay through July 31 for “unprofessional and inappropriate conduct” that violated board policies.
Board members Brendan Heneghan, Sarah Lewensohn, Michael Nelson, Marty Turek and Glenn Yaeger voted in favor of the resolution to suspend. Yvonne Mayer and Russell Rhoads voted against it.
Board members did not take questions on the resolution after the meeting.
Sonntag had been on administrative leave since April 27, according to District 181 Director of Communications Rita DuChateau. The principal’s lawyer, Brian Schwartz spoke on behalf of his client after the ruling and said Sonntag has no plans to appeal.
"Mr. Sonntag absolutely respects the board’s decision," Schwartz said. "He’s really looking forward to starting up the next school year."
(For more reaction on the ruling from Sonntag's lawyer, click here.)
District administration has not publicly addressed the specific nature of Sonntag’s misconduct. It was simply listed as a “personnel” discussion on previous agendas.
Thursday's resolution likewise does not specify Sonntag’s offenses, but states that Sonntag's misconduct violated board policies that pertain to “Ethics,” “Responsibilities Concerning Internal Communications,” and “Access to Electronic Networks and Acceptable Use of Electronic Networks.”
The resolution says Sonntag “shall at all times, during school hours and non-school hours, maintain a high level of professionalism” and “shall interact with and maintain a professional and cordial relationship with all district staff at all times.”
Board Vice President Yaeger, who served as president Thursday while President Nelson attended electronically via telephone, made the only board comments after the resolution was passed.
“[The members of the board] really appreciate the administration’s professionalism in handling this matter,” Yaeger said. “It was a very confidential matter. All aspects of investigation, and we felt, the communication were appropriate and completely in line with board policies.”
Superintendent Dr. Renee Schuster sent an email to CHMS parents May 6 that said Sonntag had been placed on administrative leave and the duration of the leave was unknown.
District parent Margie Cleber of Hinsdale attended both meetings and said the district didn’t do enough to keep parents informed.
“I do believe the administration could have handled the communication to parents and teachers in a manner that wouldn’t have raised so many red flags and got the community upset,” Cleber said.
The resolution stipulates Sonntag “shall not communicate with parents, students, former students an their parents, or staff of the district” during his suspension. That means the principal will miss the upcoming CHMS graduation ceremony, which Cleber said will upset her eighth-grade son.
“He’s going to be very disappointed that [Sonntag] won’t hand him his diploma,” she said.
The board’s ruling came after more than 10 hours of closed session discussion split between a special May 16 meeting and the board’s May 23 business meeting, which the board decided to recess until Thursday after discussion went on past midnight.
During the two meetings, 12 community members made public comments regarding Sonntag—11 of those comments were made in support of the principal.
The board met behind closed doors from 5:15 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. Thursday at Elm School in Burr Ridge before Yaeger announced the action.