Under Kentucky law (526.020) "A person is guilty of eavesdropping when he intentionally uses any device to eavesdrop, whether or not he is present at the time." Eavesdropping is a Class D felony, and divulging illegally obtained information is a Class A misdemeanor.
The recent investigation of Cardinal Valley Elementary School's former principal and academic dean was prompted by complaints from employees, including reports that the administrators violated Kentucky eavesdropping laws by using a hidden voice recorder to tape closed-door meetings.
Board member Melissa Bacon congratulatesIvonne Beegle, following a 16-point jumpin test scores in 2010. (FCPS.net)
Those details were revealed in a packet of grievances and complaints filed by at least six Cardinal Valley employees in August. The Herald-Leader obtained the documents Wednesday after filing an open-records request with the Fayette County Board of Education.
The reported eavesdropping took place in the fall of 2011 while two investigators from the Fayette County public school district office interviewed Cardinal Valley employees about working conditions there. The interviews were related to a previous harassment complaint involving Cardinal Valley principal Ivonne Beegle, according to the documents.
Three employees, who were not identified in the documents, alleged that Beegle and academic dean Suzanne Ray listened to an audio recording of private meetings between the employees and investigators.
The interviews took place in Beegle's office, but neither the employees nor the investigators knew they were being recorded, the documents said. Beegle and Ray were not present during the interviews; one of the complaints said Ray obtained the recording by hiding a voice recorder in a flower pot.
According to the documents, Beegle and Ray let at least one other Cardinal Valley employee listen to the recording.KSN&C has heard (unsubstantiated) allegations that Beegle may have withheld Title I instructional supplies from certain teachers. Why something like that might have happened is beyond me - unless punitive actions that mitigated against an unfavored teacher's success was business-as-usual at Cardinal Valley. However, such a violation, if true, would be precisely the kind of thing that denies students educational opportunity and would be seen by compliance officers as a threat to future district Title I funds. And putting district funding at risk is a great way to get fired.
Beegle and Ray also allegedly retaliated against at least one teacher who complained to investigators about stressful working conditions at Cardinal Valley, the documents said.
After hearing the teacher's comments on the recording, "Mrs. Ray leaned back in her chair, smiled, and said, 'He just signed his own pink slip,'" one of the complaints said.
The teacher resigned about three months later because of stress-related health problems, according to another complaint.
The employees indicated they waited until August to report the misconduct because they were afraid of retaliation.
"Fear is why people do not speak up; fear is why I have not spoken up. In my own opinion, many of us at CVE work under a fear factor all day, every day," one employee wrote.
Beegle and Ray were suspended Sept. 4 after Fayette County schools officials began investigating allegations of misconduct, school officials have said. Fayette Superintendent Tom Shelton said the grievances were presented directly to him by the Kentucky Education Association, which represents the employees who filed the grievances.
Shelton assigned school district employees to investigate the alleged misconduct. On Sept. 28, Beegle and Ray resigned, school officials have said. Their resignations ended the school district's investigation, Shelton said.
He said Wednesday he did not know whether another agency was investigating. Shelton referred the case to the Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board, but he did not know whether the board would take further action.
"They make their own decision if they want to investigate or not," he said.In September WTVQ talked to parents of students who attend Cardinal Valley Elementary, who say they're not completely surprised that Beegle is being put on leave. Parents say there have been multiple complaints made about the principal in the the past few years. (VIDEO)
Beegle and Ray could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Lexington attorney Ed Dove, who represented the former administrators last week, did not return messages seeking comment.
On Friday, Dove filed a lawsuit in Fayette County Circuit Court seeking a restraining order on the public release of the complaints against Beegle and Ray. The lawsuit was filed hours before WTVQ-TV (Channel 36) was set to air a story about the records on its 5 p.m. newscast, according to court documents.
The lawsuit, which named the Fayette County Board of Education and WTVQ as defendants, said Beegle and Ray had not gotten a chance to object to the records before they were released. Circuit court Judge Pamela Goodwine granted a temporary injunction Friday but lifted it after a hearing Monday morning.
The Fayette County Board of Education released the records to the Herald-Leader on Wednesday. The complaining employees' names and identifying information were redacted from the file.
Three of the six complaints described the alleged eavesdropping incident; all of them described a threatening or hostile work environment, or other incidents of misconduct.
Since the resignation of Beegle and Ray, Shelton has named Barbara Albaugh, a retired former principal, as interim principal. He said a new principal will be selected in the spring.
"Our focus is always maintaining the right culture and environment for students, and we'll continue to support the school from the district level as they go through this process," Shelton said.