News - DeKalb County

DeKalb High School principal alleges sexual harassment

Albano claims superintendent offered to pay off her mortgage in apologetic phone call

Newly named DeKalb High School Principal Michele Albano introduces herself at the District 428 school board meeting in DeKalb following the hiring approval on Tuesday, April 19, 2016.

DeKALB – Before the DeKalb High School principal sought a restraining order against DeKalb School District 428’s superintendent, she filed a formal complaint claiming sexual harassment that included documentation from texts and emails.

Principal Michele Albano’s complaint, filed with District 428 on Sept. 16, portrays Moeller as a boss who was out to get her after she tried to cool off their personal relationship. Lawyers for the district provided the complaint and some of its attachments to the Daily Chronicle on Friday in a negotiated response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

“Given his explosive attitude, the anger he has displayed toward me, which often will suddenly switch to apologies and sometimes crying, and the fact that today he decided to take off a day from work shortly after I emailed him last evening that I was also taking the day off, I fear for my safety,” Albano wrote.

On Sept. 20, District 428 officials announced that Moeller, 58, had been placed on paid leave from his $199,600-a-year position as superintendent. Days earlier, Albano, 49, filed the grievance and also sought a restraining order against Moeller in Kane County Court. That order, in which Albano stated concerns about Moeller’s keeping a gun in his vehicle and on his person, was lifted after Albano did not appear in court for a hearing Oct. 6. No criminal charges were filed in the matter.

Moeller declined to comment Friday. Albano did not return a call seeking comment Friday evening.

In 2014, Moeller signed a five-year contract that lasts through the 2018-19 school year. Albano has a one-year contract with a $135,000 salary, records show.

District records show that staff and community members spent about six hours interviewing as many as six candidates for the principal job April 8, but in her grievance, Albano wrote that before she applied for the job, “Dr. Moeller had promised that if I wanted the position, it was mine.”

On April 20, the board hired Albano, and Albano said she rekindled a friendship with Moeller that began when they both worked at Elgin High School from 2007 to ’09. The two began meeting in person and exchanging text messages, and by the summer, they had developed “a personal interest” in each other, but agreed a “real relationship” would be inappropriate, Albano wrote.

“Our texts and conversation evolved for about the next month and a half into sexual innuendo, jokes, friendly banter; but there began what I would later see as a pattern of odd behavior,” Albano wrote. “Any situation that he witnessed my getting close, either  physically or in a personal/professional relationship, with another male, he would find a way to strike out at me.”

Albano claims the problem escalated with Moeller conducting a “witch hunt” at the high school 13 days into the semester, interviewing staff members about her disagreements with administrators at the district’s Education Center, and the climate at the school.

“Previously, he supported my concerns about the difficulty with them, but this time (on the heels of my reminding him again that we are only friends) he chastised me and told me that it was my fault for not being able to get along with these few women,” Albano wrote.

Albano said the next Sunday, Sept. 11, Moeller made drunken phone calls to her in which they argued, and that he later sent her a disturbing text after midnight accusing her of trying to have sex with him multiple times.

“Nearly everything in the text is a fabrication,” Albano wrote. “I was so appalled and frightened by his accusations and frame of mind, particularly as my boss, that I did not sleep more than an hour that night.”

The next day, Albano wrote that she declined a scheduled meeting with Moeller. He then called her eight times in 40 minutes before she called him back with Vice Principal Al Biancalana in the room listening in, she wrote.

“[Moeller] went from sobbing and begging my forgiveness, to acknowledging that the text was a fabrication and stating, ‘I don’t know why I did that to you,’ to then asking me to his townhouse ‘for a drink,’ to then asking how he ‘could make it up to me,’ ” Albano wrote. “He then asked if he could pay off my mortgage. I took notes on the entire conversation.”

Biancalana couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Friday evening.

On Oct. 4, school board members hired Bradley Hawk to serve as interim superintendent. Hawk will earn $925 a day for up to 100 days of work through June 30, 2017, working two to three days a week.

The terms of Moeller's contract provide that he can be fired for "any conduct deemed to be neglect of duty or for the commission of any crime," according to the terms of the contract. If board members sought to terminate Moeller for cause, they would be required to send him the reasons in writing. He would then be entitled to a hearing before the board. That hearing would be behind closed doors, not in public, according to the contract.

School board President Victoria Newport could not be reached for comment Friday.