Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 24, 2012

TC West staffer on leave amid probe

BY JAMES RUSSELL and ART BUKOWSKI
jrussell@record-eagle.com, abukowski@record-eagle.com

TRAVERSE CITY — Parents of students at Traverse City West Senior High School learned over the weekend that a staff member was placed on leave amid a criminal investigation.

But with few details, rumors about the case are swirling in the community.

In an email to West parents sent on Saturday, West Principal Joe Tibaldi said, "I am communicating with you about allegations against a staff member recently brought to our attention. ... The staff member has been placed on a leave of absence pending the outcome of a joint investigation by the Leelanau County Sheriff's Department and the Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Department."

Sue Sawusch's daughter graduated from TC West in 2010, and her son will be at the school in a few years. She said rumors on the staff member's identity are circulating on Facebook, but she takes little stock in the gossip.

"A lot of time those don't turn out to be correct," she said. "Until the school system and law enforcement feel that the name needs to be brought out, I take stock in law enforcement that they're doing their job."

Grand Traverse Undersheriff Nate Alger said his office began investigating Friday after contact from school officials. He wouldn't provide further details.

"We won't release any information specific to the details of the investigation at this point," he said. "As soon as we can release information ... we will."

Alger said the investigation is primarily that of the Leelanau County Sheriff's Department, though he wouldn't say who in that county is tied to the investigation. Leelanau sheriff's officials didn't return calls for comment.

TCAPS Superintendent Stephen Cousins declined to offer any details while the investigation is ongoing.

"I can't say anything more than was in the letter. They have an investigation going on," Cousins said. "We've put that staff member on a leave of absence, and that keeps them from TCAPS functions and TCAPS property. We'll do whatever it takes it takes to keep our kids safe."

Sawusch was upset to hear about the criminal investigation, but understands why few details are being released.

"It's kind of sad to see this in Traverse City. My family's been in Traverse City for four generations, and to see the city changing as it gets bigger is kind of sad," Sawusch said. "I truly believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty. I don't think the name should be released until they're sure, or at least until they're charged."

Letter to parents

West Principal Joe Tibaldi sent the following email to Traverse City West parents Saturday morning:

Subject: Important Message From Joe Tibaldi

Dear WSH Parents:

I am communicating with you about allegations against a staff member recently brought to our attention. I want to assure you the safety and well being of every student is our utmost priority. We will do whatever it takes to ensure their physical and emotional welfare. The staff member has been placed on a leave of absence pending the outcome of a joint investigation by the Leelanau County Sheriff's Department and the Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Department. I want to assure you that TCAPS and WSH are fully cooperating with law enforcement's active investigation of the allegations.