Hillman starts policy change after Winfield hiring mistakes

HILLMAN — The Hillman Community Schools Board of Education has been asked by Superintendent Carl Seiter to approve a new policy requiring third-party vendors to submit a copy of forms before they send employees to work in the district.

Seiter made the recommendation Tuesday after a News investigation found the district had in 2017 hired former Alpena Public Schools teacher Heather Winfield as a substitute teacher, though Hillman officials were aware Winfield had been accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a student.

Winfield worked in Hillman through a third-party contractor.

Winfield was bound over to 26th Circuit Court on March 1 on multiple sexual assault charges and faces up to life in prison if convicted. She denies the allegations.

Any new policy must have board discussion and two public readings before it can be enacted by the board. After the policy was introduced Tuesday, the board will have a first reading at its next meeting on April 8 and a second reading and potential adoption of the policy on May 13.

“I never like to throw something at (board members) because I like to explain and let them have a chance to ask questions,” Seiter said. “As of the board meeting in May, we will have it adopted and it will be put online as part of our board policy.”

Seiter said the district is working to ensure that what happened two years ago does not happen again.

“I’m certain that my business manager, Jill Olsen, will carry through and make sure that we’ve covered our basics when it comes to making new hires,” he said.

WINFIELD HIRED IN HILLMAN

Winfield worked as a substitute teacher for Hillman from January 2017 to April 28, 2017, Seiter told The News. She was allowed to work for the district even after officials learned of the allegations against Winfield in Alpena because hiring protocols were not properly followed, Seiter said.

The previous Hillman superintendent submitted a Michigan Freedom of Information Act request to APS on Jan. 12, 2017, requesting Winfield’s personnel file, evaluations, and any disciplinary information, according to documents obtained by The News. Seiter, who was hired by the district in July 2017, said Hillman received the requested documents from APS and the alleged unprofessional conduct items were listed.

By law, each school district is required to complete a form, known as a 1230B, prior to any new hires. A 1230B is sent to previous employers, who, by law, must complete the form — including disclosures of any unprofessional conduct — and return it to the inquiring district. Officials at the prospective employer are required to review that form prior to hiring an individual.

Seiter said the hiring process for Winfield did not include a completed Form 1230B.

BOARD INPUT

Seiter approached the board with the new policy Tuesday saying he is proposing new language requiring the district to complete an unprofessional conduct form on all substitute teachers employed through a third-party vendor, like Professional Contract Management or EDUStaff, both of which provide substitute teachers to Hillman. The form will be required to be completed by the last place of employment and filed in the Hillman central office before any substitute teacher is assigned in the district.

“I’m no longer going to rely on my contract to make sure that that’s done,” Seiter said. “In this instance, I’m not going to trust anybody else to do the background checks because we already continue with the fingerprinting, so, in addition to that, I’m going to make sure the unprofessional conduct check is done by us, as well,” Seiter said. “That’s the only way we’re going to make sure that it’s done. What occurred here two years ago should never happen again.”

Olsen, the business manager, who also handles human resources in the district, will be responsible for the unprofessional conduct checks.

Board President Kelly Burwell said the new policy will tighten up any gaps so the situation that happened two years ago doesn’t happen again.

“I like the fact that it’s being kept in-house, so that we don’t need to rely on a third-party resource to give us that information,” Burwell said.

Burwell said the board was updated by Seiter about the new policy and Seiter told them that Form 1230B was not obtained by previous administration when Winfield worked in the district in 2017.

“He has tried to rectify that situation very quickly once he became aware,” Bruwell said.

Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.