Ex-superintendent convicted in child sex case still suing school district

A former Indian Lake superintendent continues to argue in a lawsuit the district didn’t have the right to fire him, despite the fact he eventually was convicted in a criminal child sex abuse case.

Patrick O’Donnell was placed on paid administrative leave by the Indian Lake Board of Education shortly after being arrested and accused of sexually assaulting a child. The child was known to him but wasn’t a student at Indian Lake schools, police said.

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O’Donnell pleaded to a count of gross sexual imposition and was sentenced to 54 months in jail. He is not expected to be released from prison until September 2022.

The amount of money O’Donnell is seeking hasn’t been disclosed, but his annual salary was about $110,000, according to district records. His wife, Heather O’Donnell, who was charged with two counts of child endangering in connection to Patrick O’Donnell’s case, got about $35,000 from the Midwest Regional Educational Service Center after she resigned from her position.

As Patrick O’Donnell’s criminal case made its way through the courts, the board decided to initiate termination proceedings against him— even though he had not yet been convicted. Patrick O’Donnell’s attorneys say in court filings that is not right and that Patrick O’Donnell is owed back pay. The board of education says they had the right to terminate Patrick O’Donnell because he was unable to fulfill his duties to the district after the allegations surfaced.

Patrick O’Donnell’s attorney Dennis Pergram and Indian Lake Board of Education attorney Doug Holthus didn’t respond to messages seeking comment. A spokeswoman for the board of education didn’t either.

The school board began termination procedures against Patrick O’Donnell in June and he appealed those in July 2017 which prompted the school to hold a termination hearing with a referee appointed by the Ohio Department of Education in August.

The referee issued a recommendation on Nov. 7, 2017, that the board shouldn’t fire Patrick O’Donnell. The referee noted in his recommendation that even though the allegations are “extremely serious”, Patrick O’Donnell should have remained on unpaid leave until after the criminal case is resolved.

The school district went ahead and fired Patrick O’Donnell anyway, an action the board said it has the right to do.

In a defendant’s brief, Indian Lake schools said Patrick O’Donnell deserved to be fired.

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“Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a case where an educator deserves to have been terminated more than O’Donnell - he has been convicted of committing a sex crime against a child,” the brief says. “A board of education should not be required to wait for a criminal conviction to terminate an educator. The standard for terminating an educator is ‘good and just cause’ and not a criminal act proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The Board of Education shouldn’t have to pay an employee until a criminal case is completed, the brief says.

“Moreover, an educator who is subject to a mandatory suspension pending a criminal proceeding should not be permitted to be entitled to payment through the completion of the criminal process. If that were the case, the person who is arrested and charged with a crime could try to delay his criminal case in an effort to extract more payment from a public employer,” the brief says.

READ: Victim in ex-Indian Lake superintendent sex case: Speak up

In response to the brief, Pergram said Patrick O’Donnell is not looking to get his job back but shouldn’t have been fired before a conviction.

“It is the board that chose to initiate a termination proceeding against superintendent O’Donnell when it did and it is the board that chose to rely on ‘an arrest’ rather than setting forth any charges or evidence that Superintendent O’Donnell engaged in misconduct that would constitute good and just cause,” the reply says. “Based on the facts introduced at the termination hearing and the law, the order of termination must be reversed along with an order that the board pay Mr. O’Donnell his back pay loss…”

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