CADILLAC — Details about the resignation of a Cadillac High School teacher earlier this month are few and far between, but some information is trickling out.
Documents obtained through a Record-Eagle Freedom of Information Act request show Aaron Whipple, a former mathematics teacher at the high school, was placed on paid administration leave Jan. 4 while district officials investigated his “conduct with a female student.”
News broke earlier this month of an email Whipple sent to a student that spurred the investigation and paid suspension. Cadillac Area Public Schools Superintendent Jennifer Brown previously referred to the email as “concerning.”
In a two-sentence letter submitted to Brown on Feb. 10, Whipple said his resignation “is not, and shall not be construed as, an admission of liability or wrongdoing of any kind.”
Whipple could not be reached for comment, and Brown did not return a call for comment Thursday.
Little is known about the nature of the email and those with knowledge remain tight-lipped.
Michigan State Police Lt. Derrick Carroll said there is no update on the case as it is still an active and open investigation. Carroll declined to comment on the contents of the email or why its subject matter warrants a criminal investigation, only saying the MSP’s “first and foremost concern is our obligation to the victim.”
“On a case like this and with its sensitive nature, we’re not going to discuss anything about it,” he said. “There are a lot of moving parts to this, and we want to make sure that we give it the attention it deserves.”
Community members remain in the dark as well while they await more information.
Melody Adair has two grandchildren at the high school. She doesn’t expect any more details to come out about the matter, saying that districts officials will “hush it up.”
“I’m glad he’s gone,” Adair said.
Cheryl Heasty said Whipple was her granddaughter’s favorite teacher and that many of the students believed Whipple’s absence was because he’d contracted COVID-19. It wasn’t until news broke about the email that people learned about Whipple’s paid suspension.
Heasty said she met Whipple several times and never had any reason to be concerned about him or his actions.
“We just don’t know anything,” Heasty said.
District officials denied a separate Record-Eagle records request that sought the release of the email in question, arguing that releasing the letter publicly could violate compliance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
However, Robin Luce Herrmann, legal counsel for the Michigan Press Association, said citing FERPA is not an acceptable reason to withhold the entire document.
CAPS officials are “obligated to separate” materials within a document that are exempt from FOIA, such as a student’s name, and then provide the nonexempt materials to the requester, Luce Herrmann said.
In the documents CAPS officials did provide, Brown notified Whipple on Jan. 3 that he was placed on administrative leave the following day and “until further notice” as the district investigated his conduct. Whipple was told not have contact with any students, staff members, community members and/or parents either directly or indirectly or through other people. Whipple was also barred from school grounds and school functions unless given permission by Brown.
Brown told Whipple he would have an opportunity to meet with an investigator for an interview. Whipple missed three scheduled meetings with the district’s attorney to discuss the situation on Jan. 6, Jan. 19 and Jan. 22, according to the documents.
According to district communications, Whipple’s union representative, Kari Guy, informed Brown at 10 a.m. on Jan. 6 that Whipple would not appear at a meeting scheduled for 11 a.m. The interview was rescheduled for 10 a.m. on Jan. 19, but Whipple’s attorney, Fil Iorio, told Brown on Jan. 18 that Whipple would not attend that meeting either.
District legal counsel told Iorio that Whipple would be insubordinate if he did not appear. The meeting was rescheduled again for 9 a.m. on Jan. 22, and Whipple was informed he would be disciplined if he failed to show up. Guy notified Brown an hour before the Jan. 22 meeting that Whipple once again would not attend the meeting nor subject himself to an interview.
In a Jan. 27 email, Brown told Whipple his failures to appear would result in a recommendation to the board of education that he be fired. Whipple resigned before the board considered the matter.
Guy and Iorio did not return a call for comment.
Laura Michels contributed to this report.