Complaints by substitute teacher and against Habisch-Ahlin unfoundedThe misconduct by school board member Sandy Gehrke wasn’t the only investigation conducted recently on behalf of the Hudson Board of Education.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
The misconduct by school board member Sandy Gehrke wasn’t the only investigation conducted recently on behalf of the Hudson Board of Education.
The July 10 meeting also included findings of an inquiry by the district’s legal counsel Mike Waldspurger into a public complaint by former substitute teacher April Simmons that she had been wrongfully terminated, and allegations that communications specialist Tracy Habisch-Ahlin was hired improperly and is not qualified for her position.
In a letter to the editor in the Star-Observer in May, Simmons wrote that she was removed from the Hudson School District’s substitute teacher list because her husband spoke out at a City of Hudson Plan Commission meeting against the rezoning of the St. Croix Meadows dog track as a site for a secondary school.
Attorney Waldspurger said he had given Simmons notice of the district’s intention to go public with their investigation of her allegations and time to appeal the release of her personnel information. Waldspurger said he also contacted Simmons to present her side of the story but she declined.
The attorney said he interviewed a dozen witnesses who had contact with and/or observed Simmons as a substitute teacher. He detailed a variety of complaints about her performance that included not following lesson plans, that the children in her charge were loud and unruly, that she provided inconsistent reports of her daily activity and that she left her classroom unattended as well as leaving the school building without permission.
District personnel records documented the complaints. It was when human resources director Deb Weigert left a message for Simmons around mid-April that she needed to talk with her before she could continue to be a substitute teacher, Simmons reportedly left her students unattended, left the school building without telling anyone and went to Weigert’s office demanding to meet with her. Following the meeting, Waldspurger said that Simmons returned to the school and confronted another teacher berating her out for filing a complaint about her. This was done in front of the teacher’s students.
Simmons was removed from the substitute teachers’ roster on April 24. She also is alleged to have asked students to circulate a petition on her behalf.
Waldspurger said that despite Simmons’ allegations to the contrary, Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten was never involved in any of the issues surrounding Simmons employment or performance on the job. He said that Simmons was not fired but removed from the substitute teacher roster for a series of inappropriate actions.
Waldspurger said he was also asked to see if there was any wrongdoing on the part of the district as to the hiring of Tracy Habisch-Ahlin as district communications specialist in 2007.
He said allegations had appeared in the Star-Observer and other media outlets that Habisch-Ahlin “was hired out of thin air, not qualified for the job, applied while she was still a board member and was operating her pre-school, Cove Country School, while a full-time employee of the district.”
Waldspurger said that the allegations were unfounded. Hasbich-Ahlin resigned her position on the school board before ever applying for the communications job. Prior to creating the position, the district had hired an independent contractor to handle both internal and external communication needs.
Regarding her qualifications for the job, Habisch-Ahlin has held jobs related to communications with the State of Minnesota, the University of Minnesota and for the Minnesota Supreme Court. She is the owner of Cove Country School but the day-to-day operations of the school are handled by a teacher she employs. Waldspurger said Habisch-Ahlin does not teach at the school or spend any time while working for the district on Cove Country business.
Habisch-Ahlin was first hired as a part-time employee. Her position has recently been expanded to full-time when the management of the district’s community education program was added to her duties.
Waldspurger said there is no evidence of any violation of law or policy with regard to Habisch-Ahlin’s employment by the Hudson School District.