Ex-Hamilton Schools leader Tony Orr accused of sexual harassment, more

Ex-Hamilton Schools leader Tony Orr accused of sexual harassment, more
Posted at 11:35 AM, Apr 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-24 11:35:54-04

HAMILTON, Ohio -- The allegations against former Hamilton City Schools superintendent Tony Orr that preceded his resignation included sexual harassment, fostering a hostile work place and attempting to influence the election of the school board.

Those are some of the allegations in a Jan. 19 attorney’s letter -- exclusively obtained by WCPO media partner the Journal-News -- that was sent to the Hamilton Board of Education’s attorney and shared with the five school board members.

In the letter, attorney John Concannon -- who represented two Hamilton City Schools employees -- said the total of seven allegations were “regarding serious unprofessional conduct by the district’s Superintendent Tony Orr.”

The allegations listed in the letter are:

  • Quid pro quo sexual harassment of female employees
  • Hostile environment sexual harassment of employees
  • Ethnically hostile and abusive behavior on at least one occasion witnessed by several employees
  • Ordering subordinates to delete district e-mail records
  • Discriminating against special education students
  • Attempting to unprofessionally and dishonestly influence the last board election
  • Ordering bad faith evaluations of employees for personal reasons

The allegations in the letter preceded the independent investigation launched by board members who govern the 10,000-student Butler County school system.

The two school employees did not respond to messages seeking their comments.

On Feb. 5, the school board ordered Orr on paid leave.

In a statement released that day, Hamilton Board of Education President Steve Isgro said the reason for that action was to investigate allegations Orr had violated school board policies.

“This is a personnel matter. We have to be sensitive to that and we must respect the privacy of those involved, but we do want to emphasize that this situation does not involve our students in any way,” Isgro said at the time. “We don’t want to minimize the situation under investigation but we do want to provide some clarity.”

Orr also released a statement on Feb. 5, saying he did not know what the allegations involved but expressed confidence he would be vindicated.

Orr resigned April 12 as part of a separation agreement negotiated with the board.

The separation agreement contains no references to any allegations against the superintendent, who was hired by Hamilton Schools in 2015 and had his contracted extended by the board last year to 2020.

“They laid out some pretty serious concerns that I found credible,” said veteran school attorney Concannon, who has worked as legal counsel for schools in both the Cincinnati and Dayton areas. “And based on my 30-plus years of experience, this was a very serious situation.”

“And they (the two school employees) had concerns about retaliation,” he said.

In his letter, Concannon wrote “these allegations deserve serious consideration as consequences are potentially devastating to the board, employees, students and the school community.”

Concannon declined to comment further.

Orr did not respond to messages Monday seeking his comments regarding the allegations.

Isgro declined to comment Monday, saying questions should be directed to school district attorney William Deters II.

School board member Scott Kruger also deferred to Deters, and board members Laurin Sprague, Tom Alf and Rob Weigel did not respond to messages seeking their comments.

Attorney Deters did not respond to messages Monday seeking comment.

The school board has contended since its Feb. 5 announcement ordering Orr on paid leave that board members will not publicly discuss the now-former superintendent because issues surrounding his leave and subsequent resignation are personnel issues.

Despite numerous Ohio Public Records requests from the Journal-News seeking the independent investigation report, school officials contend the report into allegations against Orr is covered under laws governing attorney-client privilege and are not public records.

Board members said the report is not in their possession but rather in the hands of Deters.

Numerous reviews of Orr’s personnel file by the Journal-News since Feb. 5 have revealed no entries pertaining to any allegations other than Isgro’s Feb. 5 statement on alleged school board policy violations by the superintendent.

This news outlet has also checked with Hamilton Police numerous times, but officials there report no investigations regarding Orr.

A short note from Orr to the board on April 12, which cited “personal reasons” for his resignation, was in his personnel file.

On Thursday, April 19, the Journal-News requested a copy of Concannon’s Jan. 19 letter of allegations to the board. But as of Monday, Hamilton school officials had not provided that document nor responded to the request.

Chris Mate, who was a candidate for the Hamilton school board election last fall, said the community deserves to know what is in the school board’s investigation report on Orr.

Mate, who is a former Hamilton Schools teacher and associate administrator and now works as assistant principal of curriculum and academics for the city’s Catholic Badin High School, claimed in October he was the victim of a smear campaign from emails sent anonymously out to voters.

“It seems to me the board is intentionally trying to skirt public record laws using the excuse of attorney client privilege. The public has a right and need to know the truth,” said Mate.

Hamilton’s school board next meets at 7 p.m. today, April 24, at the district’s Central Office at 533 Dayton St.