Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School students staged a sit-in Friday to protest a decision made by the district’s Board of Education to place Superintendent Laura Lawrence on paid administrative leave.
Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES District Superintendent Dr. Patrick Michel will serve as acting superintendent of the merged school district that began operations on July 1 until the board of education appoints someone else to the position.
As it is a personnel matter and due to possible pending litigation, Michel said the board members’ reasons for placing Lawrence on leave would not be discussed publicly.
Board of education members Cindy Breh, Neil Clark, William Lints and Susanne Sammons voted Wednesday in favor of placing Lawrence on administrative leave.
Board members Keith Handy, Lee Quackenbush and Renee Swartz voted against the action.
The vote came after a nearly 90-minute executive session and a 4 - 3 vote to amend the meeting’s agenda.
Breh, Clark, Lints and Sammons voted to amend the agenda, while Handy, Quackenbush and Swartz voted against the motion.
During Friday’s sit-in students held signs that read “We want answers, “We will be heard,” “We have a voice, too” and “Bring Ms. Lawrence.”
Michel said Wednesday the state Department of Education’s investigation into past grading and promotion practices at the former Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School District is unrelated to Lawrence.
He declined to comment further on the investigation, except to say it was not tied to the new Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville school district and the board of education members had been instructed by the state Department of Education not to comment on it publicly.
“We are prohibited by the state from discussing the investigation at this time,” Michel said Wednesday. “Once the investigation is complete, the details will be released as appropriate.”
The board of education unanimously selected Lawrence as the district’s first superintendent on May 7, with her official appointment after contract negotiations.
Lawrence served as St. Johnsville superintendent of schools since the beginning of the 2012 - 2013 school year and served as the district’s deputy superintendent prior to that. Before becoming superintendent, she was the principal of St. Johnsville’s D.H. Robbins Elementary School for six years. During her time as principal, she also served as the former district’s director of special education, Committee on Special Education chairperson and as director of St. Johnsville’s Head Start program.
A Little Falls native, Lawrence began her education career teaching fifth grade for a year at Hannibal Elementary School in Oswego County. From 1990 to 2006, she taught kindergarten through fifth grade at Benton Hall Academy in Little Falls.
— Staff Reports