Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 18, 2013

Frankfort principal on leave


— TRAVERSE CITY — Frankfort High School's principal is on a leave of absence as his wife stands accused of trying to kill her autistic teenage daughter.

Matt Stapleton's paid administrative leave began Tuesday, two weeks after his daughter, Issy, and his wife Kelli Stapleton were found unconscious inside a van parked at a remote location. Authorities said Kelli Stapleton tried to kill herself and her daughter by igniting two charcoal grills inside the enclosed vehicle.

Kelli Stapleton is being held without bond in Benzie County's jail on an attempted murder charge.

Matt Stapleton and school district officials would not say which party requested the two-week paid absence. Matt Stapleton said he'll focus on Issy's transition from the hospital and on his other children during the time off.

"This is just me taking some time off to focus on my kids," he said. "This is what I should be doing."

Tom Stobie, superintendent of Frankfort-Elberta Area Schools, said Matt Stapleton has not worked full time since the alleged murder-suicide attempt. He is expected to return to work following the two-week leave, Stobie said.

School Board President Troy Terwilliger said the board is aware Matt Stapleton is on a short-term, non-disciplinary leave, although the board did not meet to discuss the matter.

“Because it’s of a personnel nature, I won’t comment further,” he said.

Kelli Stapleton maintained a blog, "The Status Woe," that detailed her experiences raising Issy, an intelligent but abusive autistic child.

One blog post — dated the same day authorities found Kelli Stapleton and Issy unconscious in the van — recounted a supposedly volatile series of meetings with a teacher and school officials as Issy prepared to start classes at the school where her father is principal.

School officials, in Kelli Stapleton's telling, decided Issy could no longer attend classes. She wrote that one official recommended home schooling or a program more than two hours away.

“So less than a week before school is to start, she is uninvited,” Kelli Stapleton wrote. “I am devastated. My husband is gutted.”

School officials have said federal law prohibits them from comment on the events described in the blog.

Stobie said Wednesday he would not comment on whether Matt Stapleton's leave of absence is related to the events of the last month.

"I can't talk about it," he said. "It's a personnel issue."

Stobie said Anne Gwaltney, an administrative assistant for the district, has taken over principal duties in Matt Stapleton's absence.

Issy lingered in an unresponsive state for days after she was discovered in the van. Her condition has greatly improved since then, Matt Stapleton said.

"She is making incredible strides," he said. "She is defying the odds and she is doing unbelievably well."

Staff writer ANNE STANTON contributed to this report.