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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 (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 in Burr Ridge before Yaeger announced the action.

Duncan Idaho May 27, 2011 at 07:48 PM
So very remarkable to see so many parents jump on the Sonntag bandwagon without knowing any of the facts. I've spoken with him and found him to be a pleasant, articulate individual. I'm hopeful that the Board's decision was based on an evaluation of the facts and not the baseless emotions spewed out by the parents. As for me, I have nothing to gain by supporting him because the mere fact he was suspended tells me there is a flaw somewhere. No one is irreplaceable, even if they appear to be pleasant and articulate on the outside. The Board will look very incompetent if Sonntag manages to {fill in the blank} get suspended again down the road.
Kerry Comstock May 30, 2011 at 02:53 AM
You are right Joe -- I said he used his cell phone, when in fact the official wording was : 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.”
Ann Mueller May 31, 2011 at 03:04 PM
I would like the parents who have indicated that their students feel "punished" by not having Mr. Sonntag there to congratulate and shake their hands at graduation to think about what "unprofessional and inappropriate conduct' Mr. Sonntag might have committed to necessitate him being placed on leave and then result in hours and days worth of consideration by the Board of Education. When an administrator violates several district policies and, therefore, necessitates being placed on leave, there are major issues at stake and the community needs to seriously think about them. Being a "nice guy" does not qualify an individual to be in charge of a 650+ student middle school. There are certain standards that an individual placed in this type of position of responsibility should meet and be held to. Having been a teacher, a member of the D181 Board of Education and a parent of two daughters who attended D181, I am shocked by many parents' responses supporting Mr. Sonntag. Have these people thought about the fact that they may only be aware of half of the facts, if that, in this situation? This is a personnel issue and the BOE and D181 Administration legally cannot discuss the specifics. However, I suggest the entire D181 community contemplate this situation, reflect on it, as Julie Ranahan suggests, as a "teachable moment" and examine what moral compass we wish to pass on to our students. Ann Mueller
Steve Woodward May 31, 2011 at 08:19 PM
The Board got this right. Reassuring to see the newly elected members are ready to make tough decisions amid fierce opposition. They'll need that same backbone when contract negotiations come around later this year.
Kerry Comstock June 05, 2011 at 03:47 PM
We do not know Ann, but shaking kids hands certainly cannot hurt anyone and he is getting plenty punished for whatever he did. if he did anything terribly reprehensible he would have been fired or charges would have been filed. Sorry, I do not have blind faith in these behind the door decisions. Given 5 board members voted for his return, I feel pretty confident the board feels he is back where he belongs. He is an important part of my 8th graders experience and it is disappointing she cannot thank him and shake his hand. We " ll be thinking about that " teachable" moment Wednesday night.

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