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Fired teacher sues CV district

Former U-Hi educator files lawsuit alleging he was wrongfully terminated

Former University High School teacher Michael Cronin has filed a lawsuit against the Central Valley School District alleging he was improperly fired from his job while he was serving a jail sentence at Geiger Corrections Center.

Cronin was placed on paid administrative leave twice: once in 2009 while the district investigated claims that he was drunk at school and inappropriately touched a female student and a female staff member, and again in 2011 when the district learned he had been sentenced to jail on two drunken driving-related charges. A second student also came forward alleging Cronin had inappropriately touched her.

District Superintendent Ben Small sent Cronin a letter on Jan. 5 announcing the teacher’s termination, stating Cronin had a “pattern of misconduct” that negatively affected his ability to do his job.

Cronin’s lawsuit claims the district fired him improperly because he asked for and was denied an appeal hearing. A letter requesting a hearing was sent to the district by Cronin’s union representative, but Small’s response on Feb. 21 was that any appeal “must be undertaken by the employee” and the request wasn’t valid because it came from the union representative.

Attorney Larry Kuznetz said he disagrees with the school district. “There’s nothing in the statute that prohibits a union representative that’s been authorized and asked on his behalf to ask for that,” he said. “That’s going to be an issue, obviously, that has to be decided.”

Central Valley School District spokeswoman Melanie Rose said she could not comment on an active lawsuit.

Cronin was granted a one-day furlough while he was in jail to meet with district administrators to discuss his legal issues. According to his lawsuit, Cronin told district representatives during the meeting that his alcoholism was a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but ADA violations are not alleged in the lawsuit.

Cronin has been arrested three times since 2004 on suspicion of driving under the influence. Two charges were amended to first-degree negligent driving, and in the third case Cronin received deferred prosecution, which means the charge would have been dismissed if Cronin did not violate his probation for five years.

The deferred prosecution was revoked after Cronin was charged with physical control, which is similar to driving under the influence but used when an officer doesn’t witness the impaired person actually driving.

He also pleaded guilty to obstructing a police officer in Pend Oreille County in exchange for the dismissal of a second charge for resisting arrest.

Cronin attended a residential alcohol treatment program for a month before serving two and a half months in jail. He was released from jail on Jan. 16 and is currently appealing the revocation of his deferred prosecution.

His lawsuit includes accounts of Cronin’s recent arrests, but many of the details differ from those in police reports and witness statements. Kuznetz said he didn’t know why the details are different. “All I can tell you is, that’s his position in regards to what happened,” he said. “I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I couldn’t tell you if there are discrepancies.”

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