School district still won’t explain why it secretly suspended Fishers HS football coach
FISHERS, Ind. (WTHR) — Despite a ruling from Indiana's Public Access Counselor urging more transparency, Hamilton Southeastern Schools is still refusing to release details surrounding the secretive suspension of the head football coach at Fishers High School.
Rick Wimmer, who has been a teacher and coach at Fishers High School since 2006, was suspended four months ago. The HSE school board quietly approved the unpaid 5-day suspension at its December board meeting without ever mentioning Wimmer's name -- in fact, the only public record of the discipline shows only his employee ID number. (Prior to that meeting, all other HSE staff who received suspensions were listed by name in the board agenda.)
13 Investigates exposed the suspension after multiple inquiries to school administrators, who originally declined to confirm the identity of Employee #10042.
The suspension came three months after Wimmer was placed on administrative leave for a confrontation that occurred between him and a student at Fishers High School. According to a police report, the student arrived late to class and refused instructions to move to the back of the room. Police say that's when Wimmer placed his hands on the student's shoulder and upper chest. Detectives say the entire incident lasted about five seconds -- but long enough for both the school district and Fishers Police to investigate.
Police quickly announced there would be no charges. And the school district reinstated the longtime coach after two weeks of paid leave and two missed football games.
It seemed the situation was over. Then the board issued its secretive unpaid suspension a few months later.
WTHR requested more information about the suspension, citing Indiana's Access to Public Records Act, which requires school districts to provide a "factual basis" for discipline taken against employees.
HSE declined to provide an explanation for the suspension, other than to say Wimmer failed to "implement instructions for classroom management strategies." WTHR responded by filing a formal complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor, alleging HSE violated the law by knowingly withholding basic information that would establish a factual basis for the suspension.
Public Access Counselor Luke Britt agreed with Eyewitness News, stating that HSE's response was too vague.
In his recent advisory opinion, Britt acknowledged that schools walk a fine line between protecting sensitive employee information and providing information to the public. But the 4-page report was critical of HSE for not providing transparency involving Wimmer's suspension, and Britt said the school district's response to WTHR was "lacking sufficient detail."
"A reader of a factual basis should have some tangible indication as to why a public employee is disciplined," Britt wrote. "Factual basis contemplates at least a fact. I would argue that a fact equates to a detail specific to an incident or set of incidents… I trust HSE will take these considerations under advisement and craft a factual basis which strikes a balance between employee-student privacy expectations and a reasonably transparent description of what actually took place."
HSE has since chosen to ignore the Public Access Counselor's suggestion to provide additional details surrounding the discipline.
In a letter to WTHR, school district attorney Seamus Boyce stated HSE is choosing to not release more information about Wimmer's suspension. He said doing so would compromise a federal law prohibiting school districts from releasing private student records. Boyce did not offer any evidence to show how releasing details about the coach's discipline would jeopardize student privacy.
This week, Eyewitness News responded to the school district's continued denial by filing another complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor. It again requests that Britt find HSE in violation of the Indiana Access to Public Records Act for failing to provide a reasonable "factual basis" as required by law and as recommended weeks earlier by the Public Access Counselor.
The Public Access Counselor is expected to file a new opinion in May.
Earlier this year, Wimmer told 13 Investigates he does not want to discuss the disciplinary action that the school board issued against him.