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School leader on leave as law firm eyes procedures

Posted: April 16, 2014 - 12:00am

FAIRBANKS — The superintendent of Fairbanks schools was placed on leave while a hired law firm investigates how the district handled a case of alleged sexual abuse by an employee, school board officials said.

The school board met in a closed-door session on April 7 and afterward said it had placed Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Superintendent Pete Lewis on leave.

Officials declined to provide a reason for the move beyond saying it was not a disciplinary action, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Monday.

Last month, a tutor at Hutchinson High School was arrested and charged with seven counts of sexual abuse of a minor. Prosecutors claim the abuse happened on school property.

Under pressure from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner for the board to be in compliance with state open meetings laws and to clearly state why they were going into executive session, the board president provided more information ahead of another closed-door session Monday night.

“There are various liability exposures that must be investigated,” including the alleged abuse, negligent hire, retention and supervision claims, and management issues including whether all policies and procedures were followed, board president Heidi Haas said, reading from a prepared statement.

She reiterated that placing Lewis on leave was not a disciplinary action, the investigation is ongoing, and no one has been found guilty of any wrongdoing.

“Superintendent Lewis is on leave while this is occurring. No conclusions should be reached from this,” Haas said. “There needs to be an investigation free from allegations of bias or influence by decision makers.”

Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Lewis on Tuesday were not immediately successful.

The district has hired an outside law firm, Perkins Coie, to conduct the investigation.

No other administrators have been placed on leave. However, the district’s human resources director has been out of the office for the past few weeks for an unspecified reason, Haas said.

The board on Monday directed the administration to bring the director back to work or put her on leave and fill the job on an interim basis while the investigation continues.

The tutor, Claude Fowlkes III, 34, was arraigned March 25 on seven counts of sexual abuse of a minor. Officials said the district employed him in a job tutoring teen parents.

It could not be immediately determined if he entered a plea, and attempts by the AP to reach Fowlkes or his public defender weren’t immediately successful Tuesday.

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