The Indian Lake Board of Education shouldn’t fire its superintendent accused of child rape, according to a state referee.
Patrick O’Donnell, who has been Indian Lake superintendent since 2010, has been charged with rape-child under 13, sexual battery and gross sexual imposition. Investigators have said the alleged rapes occurred over a three-year-period and involve a single child who’s now 13. That child isn’t a student at Indian Lake and was known to him, according to police.
The district’s school board took steps to terminate him shortly after he was arrested in June, which O’Donnell appealed in July. The school board held a termination hearing with the referee appointed by the Ohio Department of Education in August to review the appeal. The referee issued a recommendation on Nov. 7 that the board shouldn’t fire O’Donnell.
The allegations against O’Donnell shouldn’t be enough to fire him, even though they are “extremely serious,” Robert Harrelson, an attorney who acted as the referee, says in his written recommendation. Instead the superintendent should remain on unpaid leave until after the criminal case is resolved, according to the recommendation.
“In arguing for the justification for termination based upon charge one, the board does not offer much in the way of supporting evidence and, instead, relies upon the statements that the ‘factual nature of this charge has been proven and are essentially undisputed,’” Harrelson says in his report.
Indian Lake doesn’t have to follow the recommendation, according to a news release from the district.
“In order to make a final decision whether to accept or reject the referee’s recommendation, the board members must carefully review the recommendation of the referee,” the release says.
The next regular meeting will be Nov. 20.
While O’Donnell was arrested, Harrelson says the school board has an obligation to prove that the allegations against O’Donnell are true before they terminate him.
The recommendation also questions the decision by the school board to attempt to fire O’Donnell quickly.
“Quite possibly, the board has acted prematurely in pursuing the termination of Mr. O’Donnell for the sole reason he was arrested and charged with this crime,” the recommendation says. “Instead, the board had the option to place Mr. O’Donnell on paid or unpaid administrative leave pending the resolution of the criminal matter.”
If O’Donnell is convicted in the criminal case, Indian Lake will likely have good cause to terminate him, Harrelson says in his report. O’Donnell’s jury trial is set to start Dec. 6. His attorney couldn’t be reached for comment.
Also in the recommendation, Harrelson says O’Donnell should be allowed to use vacation time on the days he was in jail and missing work those days doesn’t justify him being terminated.
Staying with the story
The Springfield News-Sun has closely followed developments in the accusations against Indian Lake Superintendent Patrick O’Donnell since the news first broke in June and will continue to track the case.