Oakwood principal still out 3 months later; school will only say probe continues

It’s been more than three months since Oakwood High School’s longtime principal was ordered to take paid administrative leave. The region’s highest-performing school district has declined interview requests, instead issuing a statement that the investigation continues, fewer than two weeks before graduation and the end of the school year.

Principal Paul Waller’s suspension came after a Jan. 23 theft involving a male student caught in a girls’ locker room stealing clothes, including undergarments, district records show. Questions were raised about what discipline the student received.

Since he was placed on leave for an unspecified time by first-year Oakwood Superintendent Neil Gupta on Feb. 2, Waller’s professional activities have been restricted, district records show.

They include avoiding “any contact with Oakwood students or their families regarding Oakwood High School business” and other school-related actions unless authorized by Gupta, according to school district documents.

Credit: FILE

Credit: FILE

One Waller supporter, Margot Hadley, last month told the district’s board of education the move against the 15-year OHS principal has been “without any guidance or timeline set by the district.”

The Dayton Daily News has requested interviews with Gupta on the issue. Those requests were declined.

Instead, the district requested written questions. Several questions were sent, including how the investigation is being conducted, how Waller’s tenure with the district factored into the action taken and if it is expected that Waller would return to his post as OHS principal. We had previously asked what actions Waller took that caused him to be placed on leave.

The district responded with the following statement:

“Oakwood High School Principal Dr. Paul Waller remains on paid administrative leave as the Oakwood School District conducts an internal investigation. The investigation is overseen by an independent external investigator unaffiliated with the Oakwood school district. We are not working on any investigation with Oakwood Safety” (the police department).

“During this period of administrative leave, Dr. Waller is allowed to participate in school and athletic events in his capacity as a parent. However, it’s important to note that he does not represent the district in any official capacity during these occasions.

“Given that the investigation is still in progress, the district is unable to provide additional comments at this time regarding ongoing investigations.”

Several attempts to reach Waller for comment via different means have been unsuccessful. His automated email response has stated “I am currently out on extended leave” and directs inquiries to interim Principal Patrick Masters, a retired administrator from Dayton and Northmont schools.

Since late January, the issue has prompted extensive social media comments and speculation. But few people in the district have publicly raised the matter — either pro or con — at board of education meetings.

The length of Waller’s forced leave “seems unprecedented” in that he “had no prior issues as far as a suspension or leave,” Hadley told the school board last month. She called Waller one of the district’s “most talented and dedicated employees.”

Since starting as OHS principal in August 2009, Waller has consistently scored in the top two categories in annual evaluations, Oakwood records show. The high school regularly ranks among the top 10 in Ohio on measures of the state report card, as does the Oakwood school district as a whole.

Only one other Oakwood resident has addressed the school board on the topic of Waller. In April, Sean Geehan called the issue “a sensitive matter” that should be resolved “with the best interest of everybody involved.”

Geehan also said he was “highly supportive” of Waller, calling him “accessible, engaged and serious” in key situations, and adding that his children’s feedback on Waller has been “extremely positive.”

Since late January, others have expressed a different view, according to school district documents obtained through public records requests.

One person sent an email to Waller and Gupta the night of Jan. 24, more than 24 hours after the theft occurred. The emailer asked about “the steps the school has taken to involve the police in this theft offense and if not, why and what steps the school is taking internally in terms of discipline and safety for the girls.”

The emailer was “alarmed that several of the items stolen from the girls over the last few months were returned to the girls today for them to take home.”

The email also stated, “I learned today that the student involved was at the school today as if apparently nothing happened.”

Police were called to the school by Waller the next morning, according to the Oakwood Safety Department’s incident report.

This news organization has sought subsequent Oakwood police records. But those requests have been denied as “the matter is still a pending law enforcement investigation,” Law Director Robert Jacques said.

Gupta twice mentioned the girls’ locker rooms investigation in his Feb. 2 letter to Waller notifying the principal that he was on paid leave, school district records state.

On that same day, one girls basketball player who said she was a victim of theft sent an email to the principal.

“No matter the reason” for the thefts, she wrote, “… It’s still unacceptable for our clothing items to be stolen, and on top of that, trying to create excuses for a child who has single handedly made me and my teammates uncomfortable in the place we come to learn.”

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