Indian River placed multiple staff members on administrative leave in May.

Indian River admin breaks silence after secretive suspension

Jarek RutzEducation, Headlines

Indian River placed multiple staff members on administrative leave in May.

Indian River placed multiple staff members on administrative leave in May.

The suspension of Sussex Central High School’s principal was politically motivated and followed after a fight at the school during which a student’s breast was exposed, his lawyer says.

Bradley Layfield appears to have been suspended because he showed a video of the fight to multiple teachers, school officials and state police officers that day. 

All of those viewings were common school practice after any fight, for a variety of reasons, said Thomas Neuberger, Layfield’s lawyer.

“If the district believes it somehow was an abuse of discretion for my client on four occasions to show this video that day, warn him and put a letter in his file and return him to his duties,” Neuberger said.

“Clear his good name. STOP THE RUMORS!” the statement said.

Bradley Layfield

Bradley Layfield

Little public information was released about a police investigation into the district’s decision to place multiple staff members on administrative leave May 22.

“After dealing with five decades of employment and civil rights disputes with public officials here in Delaware, I suspect that this is politically motivated either internally at the school or at the central office.” said Neuberger, a civil rights attorney.

David Maull, the district’s public relations specialist, said Monday the district has no additional comments on this issue.

“The Indian River School District continues to cooperate with law enforcement in the completion of their investigation,” he said.

The Delaware State Police also did not have additional information.

“This is still an ongoing investigation on our end, and our troopers are working diligently to make sure that they investigate the case thoroughly,” said Leonard DeMalto public information officer.

At the time of the incident, Indian River School District did announce that suspensions had occurred and Delaware State Police confirmed an investigation was ongoing, but offered no details.

Indian River’s school board voted Aug. 16 to have Judith Brittingham serve as the acting principal of Sussex Central.

RELATED: Indian River employees placed on admin leave, reason unclear

On Monday, Neuberger said it was time to “defend Layfield’s good name” and he was releasing the results of his firm’s investigation.

Two black female seniors started a fight with a white female junior in the crowded main school hallway just before the opening bell on May 17, the statement read.

The junior was yelling at a white male whom she had videotaped deflating the tires of another student’s car in the parking lot, the statement said.

The two seniors approached her and told her to shut up, cursed at her and started to attack her before they were separated by a school constable and then restrained by two school staff, a custodian and Assistant Principal Aerin Donovan.

“One of the seniors then broke free of Donovan to jump back aggressively and dangerously into the fight and Donovan grabbed her shirt trying to hold on to her and it pulled down revealing one breast, for 1-2 seconds, for 2-3 steps, before the student covered it up,” according to the law firm.

The student then began running to again attack the junior in the crowded school hallway, the statement said.

At least one female onlooker student had a shocked facial expression over the brief exposure, and the two seniors got away from the “potentially explosive racial incident.”

The female junior was then taken to the office of the senior resource office, Delaware State Police’s Det. Jermaine Cannon.

School staff had issued two radio calls for help during the altercation, indicating the school believed it to be a serious fight, possibly with racial overtones, the statement said.

School fights are a major problem, the statement said.

“They need to be controlled and prevented from escalating into serious injuries for any

students,” Neubeger said. “There is a legal duty on all school personnel to keep their students safe from physical injury when they are away from their parents and in our public schools.”

Layfield ran to the fight but it had resolved when he arrived, the statement said.

Layfield returned to his office, recited the pledge of allegiance to start the school day and then began to investigate what had happened, the statement said.

He found the junior in Cannon’s office, with two other state troopers who were there for unrelated criminal matters, reviewing surveillance camera footage and cell phone video.

Layfield then located the two seniors, who were in Assistant Principal Nikolaus Fair’s office.

Layfield then went to Discipline Dean Clay Heald’s office, who was with Donovan, who explained what had happened with the fight and the exposed breast, the statement said.

Donovan advised that faculty member Matt Jones had pulled the surveillance footage on his desktop. 

Jones was not working that day and Layfield pulled the time stamp and camera and went to view it on his desktop.

Four times later that day, Layfield  reviewed the surveillance video with faculty members who were invited into his office to view the footage on his computer with him.

According to the statement:

  1. During first period, about 7:25 a.m. to 8:20 a.m., about five teachers came to Layfield  and asked what was going on since two radio calls for help had gone out during the fight. Layfield showed them the footage a few times. Assistant Principal Karen Oliphant arrived shortly after and she also was shown the surveillance footage of the problem at the start of her work day.
  2. Around 9:45 am, Delaware State Police Trooper Hudson, who originally was on site for that criminal investigation, was reviewing the origins of the fight, and he was shown the footage to assist in his law enforcement investigation. 
  3. Around 12:30 p.m., three other staff members, including an interventionist dealing with discipline and a teacher along a hallway near the fight, were shown the fight video.
  4. Around 3:45 p.m., Dr. Renee Jerns, director of secondary education at Indian River, and Donovan, were shown the footage. Jerns was on site for a discipline proceeding. They had come to Layfield to report on the discipline proceeding. Layfield told them to look at the problem that broke out the same day, since dealing with fights is within Jerns’ job duties.

Layfield told his lawyers that there have been countless fights where surveillance camera footage is shared with staff members to keep the school safe and protect students from further fights. 

This is done to keep staff informed and safe on, and to identify participants in the fights who are often unnamed and get away, the statement said.

Layfield also said there is no policy or training in the district on viewing surveillance camera footage, so he doesn’t understand the criticism. He pointed out that the school privacy law does apply to the video circulation of fights to staff.

That law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, governs the access to educational information and records by public entities such as potential employers or publicly-funded schools.

“If the district believes it somehow was an abuse of discretion for my client on four occasions to show this video that day, warn him and put a letter in his file and return him to his duties,” Neuberger said.

“Dr. Layfield petitions the school board, under the First Amendment, for the redress of this grievance imposed on him, a respected long term member of the Sussex County community,” Neurberger said.

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