Teacher grievance tossed by East Jordan school leaders
Vollbach complains district revealed details too soon
Former East Jordan elementary teacher Paula Vollbach filed a grievance after the school district released information from her personnel file when requested under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act. (Charlevoix County Sheriff courtesy photo)
Vollbach, 50, of East Jordan, lost her job in June in a round of layoffs made by East Jordan Public Schools. Her termination followed both a criminal and internal investigation into her alleged March 3 assault with a ruler against a 10-year-old boy in her classroom.
Vollbach filed a grievance against the district for what she contends is a violation of her employment contract. The situation revolves around how quickly district officials released to the Petoskey News-Review information from Vollbach’s personnel file when the newspaper requested it under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.
Vollbach contends the district released the information too soon, not that it shouldn’t have been released at all.
The News-Review filed a FOIA request on June 21 for a copy of the tenure agreement between Vollbach and the district. The district mailed the information — including tenure charges generated by an internal investigation into Vollbach’s behavior — eight days later on June 29, according to the U.S. Postal Service postmark.
The released documents revealed Vollbach’s alleged pattern of verbal abuse and forceful physical contact with no fewer than 15 students in incidents that date back to 2003.
“She did file a grievance and it had to do with interpretations of the expired contract,” said Susan Wooden, superintendent.
District school board members voted unanimously to deny Vollbach’s grievance after a lengthy discussion at this week’s regular meeting. The disagreement focused on the interpretation of a phrase in the teachers’ contract that expired last year.
The contract reads: “In the event that a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information contained in a teacher’s personnel file is received, the administration shall promptly inform the teacher of the request and shall take the maximum time allowed by law to respond to the request. The intent of this provision is to allow the teacher sufficient time as allowed by law to protect his/her interests and privacy through legal action of his/her initiation.”
Michigan law allows for five days to respond to a FOIA request, though a 10-day extension may be invoked with a stated reason the additional time is required.
Wooden said Vollbach, along with her Michigan Education Association representative, argued the information in question should not have been released for a full 15 days. The district’s interpretation is that the five-day time period is the maximum time allowed by law to respond to FOIA requests.
“I had it available and already prepared on my desk. There was no need to request a 10-day extension for further research,” Wooden said.
Mary Lieberman, the state teachers’ union Uniserv director for the region, represented Vollbach for the grievance filing. Lieberman was not reached for comment.
Mary Beth Kur, Vollbach’s criminal defense attorney, said she is unaware of Vollbach’s grievance filing.
Normally, the Michigan Education Association could serve a written demand to arbitrate the grievance case, but that isn’t an option this time because the East Jordan teachers’ contract expired last year and there remains no current contract, Wooden said.
Meanwhile, Vollbach’s criminal bench trial for misdemeanor assault is set to begin at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 20, in Charlevoix County’s 90th District Court, court records show.