York Suburban silent about superintendent's resignation

Written by Brandie Kessler/The York Daily Record | Nov 17, 2017 10:21 AM

Michele Merkle

(York) -- The day that York Suburban School Superintendent Michele Merkle went on medical leave, an email from the district's Right To Know officer to about a dozen people within the district set the tone for what has been a virtual blackout of information on the matter. 

"NOTHING goes out to staff at this time," Corinne Mason wrote on Sept. 14. "If, you are asked anything regarding Dr. Merkle, 'Dr. Merkle is out on medical leave,'" she wrote, adding that "things will unfold more next week and the Board will communicate that out as well."

Merkle resigned on Sept. 25. 

But almost no more information about Merkle has been offered since.

Mason's email was among documents released in response to formal Right to Know requests the York Daily Record has made for public documents.

She starts by asking the board to keep this message in strict confidence.

The next two lines are redacted. 

She then writes, "I am calling an executive session for next Monday, September 18 at 7:00 p.m. in the offices of Stock and Leader ..." After providing some details about the location of the law offices, she writes, "Counsel will be there to share information with you then; there is nothing more that I can share now."

After again imploring her board members to maintain confidentiality, she reminds them of "the extreme sensitiveness of this message." 

 Another newly released email, under the subject line, "Moving Forward," was sent by Merkle on Sept. 26 to Leopold-Sharp, board vice president Cathy Shaffer and board treasurer John Posenau.

Merkle opens by stating the email was "particularly difficult" for her to send "as I am sure that any communication from me is met with skepticism."

The next line is redacted, and the line after that says, "Now that I have resigned, I trust that it is OK to send this one correspondence."

Merkle writes that she believes the district would benefit from some "brief interaction," through which she could transfer some "strategic thoughts and information."

A few other lines of the email are redacted.

Merkle's resignation came around the same time that Assistant Supt. Patricia Maloney was leaving the district. Maloney had announced her retirement in July but stayed on until Sept. 15.

The school board accepted the resignation of Supt. Michele Merkle in September. Teresa Boeckel, York Daily Record

In seeking details about these departures, the Daily Record filed numerous requests for public documents. Within one denial for such records, the district on Oct. 31 cited "an ongoing criminal investigation," but would not elaborate.

Despite the district's acknowledgment of a criminal investigation, top officials at the Spring Garden Township Police Department and the York County District Attorney's Office have been tight-lipped, declining to comment or even acknowledge involvement in anything having to do with York Suburban School District.

On Sept. 26, Spring Garden police Chief George Swartz refused a reporter's request to look at the police log, a public document that tracks incidents the department receives and responds to. Instead, he insisted the reporter file a Right To Know request.

The department, which routinely shares reports for incidents ranging from simple vandalism to aggravated assault, took 27 days -- three days shy of the maximum allowed by law -- to respond to the request, saying it might have to redact parts of the records.

When the log was released to the York Daily Record, it contained two notations that appear to refer to York Suburban High School:

  • Sept. 11: "YSHS  - crim mischief"
  • Sept. 13: "YSHS - crim mischief follow-up"

Spring Garden Township denied a subsequent Right To Know request for the incident reports for the two notations on the log, saying "a criminal investigative report is not a public document."

The school district denied a request for any surveillance video that would have captured footage of the high school parking lot and the education center parking lot on Sept. 11, the date of the criminal mischief noted on the police log. 

The district claimed that providing the video would pose a security risk and that the video related to both "an ongoing criminal investigation," and a "noncriminal investigation...that, if disclosed would ...reveal the institution, progress or result of an agency investigation."

Among the few documents granted through Right To Know requests is an email from the parent of a 9th-grader, written soon after Merkle had gone on medical leave and Maloney had retired. The parent asked Leopold-Sharp on Sept. 23 if there would be formal communication of the next steps.

"There are a lot of strange rumors flying around," the parent wrote, then expressed hope that those rumors could be addressed "as soon as possible."

Nearly two months later, the district has offered virtually no information about why Merkle left so abruptly.

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The York Daily Record

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