The Unit 2 School Board voted 7-0 Thursday night to accept a separation agreement between the district and former Serena Principal Aaron Rios, who had been on leave, as well as accept the resignation of an assistant principal, and appoint two interim administrators.
The details of the Rios agreement, however, are not being shared yet, including financial details of the agreement.
The board president and vice president told the newspaper it would need to file a Freedom of Information Act request to receive the document, and indicated parts of the document may be redacted. Julie Ajster, who has been legally representing Rios, didn't release the agreement to The Times, saying it has a confidentiality provision.
The newspaper filed the legal request Thursday. The Times also requested information into the board's investigation of Rios.
District teachers Megan Adams and Lib Whiteaker will step in as interim co-administrators for Serena Middle School and High School. Certified teachers will fill in Adams' and Whiteaker's positions as full-time substitutes, according to Board President Renee Thompson.
Sixteen members of the public attended the meeting Thursday at Serena High School, drawing three comments. Rios was not in attendance.
Thompson and Vice President Joseph Cantlin said in a press statement the board and Rios "mutually agreed to end (their) employment relationship," stating the agreement allowed both parties to move forward.
Rios posted a video Thursday afternoon on Facebook announcing he would not return to the school as principal, saying he "had no choice in this decision."
Rios has been on administrative leave pending a board investigation since he was accompanied out of school by a La Salle County Sheriff's deputy in mid-November. He was not charged, nor handcuffed.
Rios made the post Thursday on a Facebook page called #RiosStrong. He said he leaves Serena "with a heavy heart," noting he "had no choice in this decision." He said he wished he could return, "but things happen."
"It destroys me inside," Rios said on the video. "I feel I have let my students, my parents, my faculty, my staff and community down by not returning. One thing I ask for my students is to learn from this as I will."
Rios was put on leave after a Nov. 15 incident.
According to documents received in a records request, Rios told Sheridan Police Chief Chuck Bergeron “we need to get him arrested,” referring to whom Bergeron said was Superintendent Spencer Byrd.
Bergeron said he laughed and Rios said, “I’m gonna take him out. … I’m serious, too.”
Bergeron said the comment was a threat to Byrd and passed it along to Byrd and another administrator, advising them to contact sheriff’s deputies. Following the incident, Byrd had requested an order of protection against Rios, but Byrd dropped the request after a hearing date had been set on the matter.
Moments before the board agreed to the separation agreement with Rios, members accepted the resignation of Assistant Principal Ann Hoffmann, who had been handling some of Rios' duties since his leave. The Midland School Board in Varna recently announced they hired Hoffmann to become their next high school principal.
"It has been a pleasure to work with such a hard-working and supportive staff, administrative team and community," Hoffmann said. "I will always hold a special place in my heart for this district and treasure so many memories. I wish Unit 2 all the best as you continue to provide an environment for all students to learn and grow."
After a brief public session, the board met in a closed session until about 10 p.m. Thursday and adjourned without returning to a public session.
"I think the board should be proud of what they've done," said Don McNelis, a former school board member, during public comment. "They've done everything by the state laws and I think you guys should be commended for putting up with what you've put up with."
A student at Serena Middle School commented she doesn't feel safe at the school since Rios was put on leave, and that she hasn't received answers from the board to her questions. She asked if the board has asked the public what it thought of Rios.
"You said you were going to be upfront and honest with us about things that were going to happen. Where was the notice that our kids were going to have subs in all these classes because we had teachers moving up to administration to help out?" asked Elizabeth Kempiak, a parent in the district. "Why haven't you let the parents know that? It affects their education. You guys said from the beginning, you'd keep the door open and you would keep us informed on what's going on, and you have not kept us informed on their education, their safety and what's happened with Mr. Rios."
Following Thursday's meeting, Cantlin said the board is "very serious about issues with student safety."
"Student safety is a priority," Cantlin said. "We have received no indication students don't feel safe in school."
According to a press statement issued by Thompson and Cantlin, Adams will be stationed in the middle school office and Whiteaker will be in the high school office.
Adams has 16 years of teaching experience in the district, including 13 at Harding Grade School. Whiteaker has worked for 15 years as a teacher in the district, including 12 at Sheridan Grade School.
"Both have had long careers as highly respected teachers and we know they will do an excellent job helping us move the district forward," said Thompson and Cantlin in a joint press statement.
Parents and community members were encouraged to contact the new administrators. The middle school office number is 815-496-9250 and the high school office is 815-496-2361.
The Unit 2 school district has schools in Serena, Sheridan and Harding.
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