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School District Employees Question Superintendent's Leave

Fairbanks North Star Borough School District

Fairbanks, AK - Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Superintendent Pete Lewis remains on administrative leave following an April 7th decision by the School Board. While the School Board maintains it was not a disciplinary action, they have not offered further details as to why Lewis is still not back at work. 

During Tuesday night’s regular School Board meeting, Director of Labor Relations Gayle Pierce read a letter on behalf of members of the School District’s Management Team, who are concerned about the effects of Lewis’ absence. “Without his leadership, guiding hand and vision, we are an organization idling in neutral rather than moving ahead in drive.  A month without him is a drag on the organization and this staff. The engine is sputtering," Pierce said.

Lewis’ leave of absence is related to allegations that 34-year-old Claude Fowlkes III, a tutor at Hutchison High School, sexually abused a minor, but the school board hasn’t offered much explanation.  They say Lewis' absence is part of a legal and confidential investigation.

But Pierce told the Board their decision ignores the needs of district employees and students. “You are apparently terrified of the possibility of a lawsuit, so only the attorneys apparently have something to offer," she said. 

The allegations are under investigation. The family of the Hutchison student who authorities say was sexually abused has filed a claim against the school district. School Board Member Sean Rice says the board isn’t intentionally withholding information.  “We respect you guys, a lot of it is just us having to stick with that confidentiality," Rice said. 

But Administrative Secretary Flora Roddy says many employees are looking for more information on the situation. “I think it would give the people that work in this building some kind of confidence that Mr. Lewis is coming back or Mr. Lewis is coming back.  Just being in a state of not knowing has made this a very awkward month," Roddy said.

The School Board has called a special meeting next Monday night to discuss their actions regarding the ongoing personnel investigations and the superintendent’s employment status. It’s possible the Board could go into executive session during the meeting to discuss the matter directly with Superintendent Lewis.