- Associated Press - Monday, September 18, 2017

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - A high school principal in northwest Michigan is fighting a five-day, unpaid suspension levied over accusations he lied to district administrators over removal of the school’s “spirit rock.”

West Senior High School Principal Joe Esper was suspended, effective Monday, after a Traverse City Area Public Schools investigation determined he approved the removal. Early in the investigation, he said he didn’t know what happened to the large, frequently-painted boulder, the Record-Eagle reported .

District Superintendent Paul Soma also added a disciplinary letter to Esper’s personnel file. Soma said Esper authorized the rock’s burial onsite in July, but that he denied knowledge of its whereabouts.

“Not being truthful about your conduct upon direct questioning is not an acceptable behavior for anyone in our organization, but certainly when it comes to the principal of our largest high school,” Soma said.

Esper wrote to district board members, accusing administrators of violating board policy in suspending him without pay. The policy requires an administrator be given written notice of the time, date and location of a meeting where they would be allowed to respond to and dispute the issue.

He asked the district board to defer any discipline until he can meet with the group to plead his case.

Soma responded to the accusations last week, saying that Esper was being disciplined for “knowingly misrepresenting” information about the rock’s disappearance. He added that the rock’s removal jeopardized safety by being done after hours without maintenance or operation staffs’ knowledge, which violates state law and district board policies.

“I take this responsibility seriously, set high expectations for staff and will hold administrators accountable for their actions when necessary,” Soma said.

The superintendent said that the rock’s removal itself wouldn’t have warranted such severe punishment, but attempts to misinform the board after the fact was unethical and thus warranted the unpaid suspension.

Board members haven’t confirmed if they’ll meet with Esper.

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Information from: Traverse City Record-Eagle, https://www.record-eagle.com

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