WILLOUGHBY, Ohio — Willoughby-Eastlake school district parents and employees voiced their concerns during an Oct. 11 board meeting after the board voted to recommend the dismissal of middle school principal Larry Keller.
The board cited a district investigation which alleged Keller failed to properly report an incident involving students telling one of his teachers about allegations of female students being pressured to send nude photos to fellow students. The board said a secret recording of the students reporting the incident to the 78-year-old teacher was part of its investigation.
Concerned Willoughby parents like Lisa Ingram believe the district made the wrong decision.
“If there was enough evidence to fire him then why wasn’t it done already?" Ingram said. "And if not why wasn’t he back at the beginning of the school year?”
“In his last five years his reviews have been noted as skilled and accomplished, and Mr. Keller hasn't had an infraction in his 15-years at Willoughby middle. As a show a good faith please reinstate Mr. Keller as first step in an effort to rebuild our district into one we can again be proud of," she said.
Some Willoughby Middle School employees like Theresa Guerrieri also told the school board Keller should keep his job.
'I'm very upset over this, I’ve been with the school district for four years," Guerrieri said. “I have a hard time believing if it was true that Mr. Keller would sweep it under the rug.”
“Shame on the board they’re letting down this community big time, he’s been a great piece of Willoughby Middle School," said Guerrieri.
School Board President Dr. Thomas Beal admitted to News 5 the board did not have photographic evidence to support the student allegations, and so far the board has not provided any written evidence to support student claims. However, the board maintains Keller did not act properly and failed to report the incident to the district or parents.
Beal said the board is now considering whether it will report the incident to the Willoughby Police Department.
"The district has worked diligently for over five months to over-see a thorough investigation, including the use of an independent investigator," Beal said.
Keller told News 5 he plans to fight the school board decision and said in a statement, "I'm hopeful the truth will prevail, and once all the facts in this case are revealed, I will be exonerated."
Keller told News 5 no photographic or written evidence supporting the school boards narrative has ever been revealed, and he believes Superintendent Steve Thompson is seeking his termination as a form of retribution, after he filed a harassment complaint against Thompson this summer, after Keller said he was improperly reprimanded for the May incident.
Meanwhile, the school board told News 5 Keller must be given a follow-up hearing within the next 10 days if he plans to appeal the board's recommendation.