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Wednesday, March 13, 2019 02:20 pm

Viola quit after sexual harrassment, misconduct substantiated

School district withholds details

Joe Viola resigned last month as principal of Rochester Intermediate School after the school district substantiated allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against him, according to district records.

According to records released in response to a state Freedom of Information Act request, the Rochester School District substantiated allegations that Viola engaged in sexual harassment and misconduct involving a co-worker during the 2017-18 school year and during the early summer of 2018. The district substantiated allegations after interviewing “multiple employees,” including the person who was the target of Viola’s conduct, according to district records. In a Feb. 22 letter to Viola, Superintendent Lance Thurman wrote that he would recommend that the school board fire him.

Viola was suspended on Feb. 11 and submitted his resignation on Feb. 26, writing in his letter of resignation that he had decided to resign “for personal reasons and to pursue other employment opportunities.” In a Feb. 26 letter to parents announcing Viola’s departure, Thurman wrote that the principal’s departure was a personnel matter “and for legal reasons, there is no additional information that the district is able to share with you.”

But that wasn’t true. State law does not exempt personnel records from disclosure, and the law states that disclosure of information bearing on the public duties of public employees does not constitute an invasion of privacy. Nonetheless, the district is refusing to release records detailing allegations against Viola.

When Illinois Times pressed for records detailing allegations, Katie Bulava, the district’s FOIA officer, wrote in an email that the district stands by a letter in which Bulava cited privacy concerns as reason to withhold documents. “The names of complainants and the specific allegations have been withheld as an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” Bulava wrote in her letter. She invited the paper to appeal her decision to the state attorney general.

One day before Viola submitted his resignation, Brian Schwartz, his lawyer, wrote a letter to Thurman outlining terms of a resignation agreement. Under the terms outlined by Schwartz, the district will pay for health insurance for Viola and his family through June 30 and compensate him for 16 days of unused vacation.

Schwartz told Illinois Times that he was not prepared to immediately comment on Viola’s departure from the district.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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