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.

Kerry Comstock May 27, 2011 at 11:40 AM
Bravo to the 5board members that put the interests of the children and taxpayer dollars first. I agree that Mr. Sonntag should be at graduation; the kids seem to be the ones getting punished.They all were looking forward to his return. Really don't understand the correlation,and why adults would choose to do this to the kids.
Scott Larson May 27, 2011 at 12:25 PM
The taxpayers deserve the right to know why he was suspended. Don't hide behind close doors. They all forget "We" pay their salary & benefits. What is everyone trying to hide??
Kerry Comstock May 27, 2011 at 02:28 PM
We don't know what ethics violations there were. This whole process has done nothing but invite rumors. What we do know for absolute is nothing illegal happended. One known charge used his school issued cell phone for non official business. Wonder how many teachers have done that before? Should they all be fired. He is a good principal and a nice guy, and he is back where he belongs. Just my thoughts. I did file a FOIA and read the 54 eamils send to Board members. 48 supported his staying, 3 were against, and 3 were just against the whole process. So at least the majority of people were happy. Very bummed they won't let him go to graduation.
Nancy May 27, 2011 at 02:38 PM
I agree with Scott. And how can anyone openly discuss something without their children knowing all the facts? Should a student have been involved in the affair, or a young subordinate etc. I would totally agree with the decision. We are not the moral compass of this situation (that is what parents and church are for) if there was no adverse affect to the children. As of today, I have seen no evidence of where the moral compas and ethics were violated. Possibly there was some "communciation" during school time? Unless it was "steamy" or took away from his duties, who doesn't communicate electronically during work hours once in a while. Have all teachers been checked to see if they have any personal communications? It is not up to us to judge extra marital affairs - just like we would not judge teachers who are out "partying" and "drinking" and "clubbing", even possibly having sex outside marriage, heaven forbid. Hopefully (but sadly) there is more evidence of improriety than we are privvy to, otherwise this is nothing short of public slaughtering and humiliation.
julie ranahan May 27, 2011 at 02:51 PM
Griffin Sontag is a nice guy. He has also lost his moral compass. We have a teaching moment here and I intend to discuss this openly with my 4 sons. Ethics violations should cost you your job as well as your marriage.
Laurie May 27, 2011 at 03:17 PM
As a human being, I cannot say with certainty that I am 100% ethical. We make mistakes, and do things without thinking about the outcome at times. Therefore, I disagree that we should be judging a man for something that took place outside of his duties as principal. Plenty of people meet their spouses or significant others at work. I met my husband when we both worked in the ER together. Granted, we were not married to other people, or in the process of divorce. Neither one of us was asked to quit and no one called for us to be fired. The fact is, we are all human, and fallible. Griffin, in my opinion, has done nothing that we need to forgive him for. That is up to the people who are directly involved. He has always done a wonderful job, and is one of the best principals in the district. I could care less what happens in his personal life as long as it isn't illegal, or harms the students entrusted to his care. If every person lost their job because they lost their moral compass, I would imagine MANY people would be out of a job. I look forward to seeing his compass right itself over the next few years as I see him in the halls at CHMS. Although I am disappointed that he will not be handing my 8th grader his diploma, I am elated that he will be back next year to lead my other two sons.
Laurie May 27, 2011 at 05:50 PM
I absolutely agree Kerry! Why can't they make an exception so that he may attend graduation? Just one day? My 8th grader is very sad that Griffin won't be giving him his diploma, and shaking his hand. Such a big event in a child's life, and Mr. Sonntag has been a wonderful mentor.
Joe O'Donnell (Editor) May 27, 2011 at 07:04 PM
Great comments everybody, I'm loving the dialogue. Please keep in mind, though, that nothing has been officially released by Sonntag's camp or the district with details of the misconduct, so let's refrain from making any assumptions about what the principal's violations were.
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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