Benton Harbor superintendent placed on leave, being investigated

NOW: Benton Harbor superintendent placed on leave, being investigated


BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- One week after a judge sentenced their former leader to jail time for misusing school funds, the Benton Harbor Area Schools Board has voted to place their current superintendent on paid leave.

“Somebody actually posted it on Facebook and tagged my name in it,” said Antquanetta Dawkins, the parent of a Benton Harbor student. “Cause I didn’t even know that it was going on.”

Many Benton Harbor families found out through Facebook that school board members unanimously voted at a Tuesday night meeting to place Superintendent Doctor Shelly Walker on ‘non-disciplinary paid administrative leave.’

ABC57’s Taylor Popielarz confirmed on Wednesday that Benton Harbor School Board President Marletta Seats read a statement during the meeting, saying in part, “Issues have been raised regarding student safety and compliance with board policies.”

Seats did not want to comment further on Wednesday.

The school board is having Thrun Law Firm, in Lansing, investigate Walker.

A lawyer with the firm said over the phone on Wednesday that he couldn’t say what is specifically being looked into, but that it concerns “potential board policy violations.”

Benton Harbor Area Schools was already struggling before this.

The district is continuing to work with the state on a partnership agreement to keep its doors open.

The state superintendent’s office provided this statement to ABC57 on Wednesday: “The Michigan Department of Education is closely monitoring the situation at Benton Harbor Schools, and will work with district officials on any findings from its investigation in the matter.”

But for parents like Dawkins, who is a very active graduate of the district and the mom of a current first grader, news of Walker’s suspension was not only surprising, but frustrating.

The board’s decision came just one week after former Benton Harbor Superintendent Dr. Leonard Seawood was found guilty of stealing from the district.

“It hurts,” Dawkins said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “Because these are the people that were put in place for our board, and at the time they were put in place, the board felt like they could do the job that was needed to be done.”

Dawkins said she and other parents are having trouble trusting Walker right now because they don’t think she’s been properly handling a $2 million grant the district got to improve safety.

Walker did not want to comment when reached on Wednesday. But a close colleague of hers told ABC57’s Taylor Popielarz that Tuesday’s vote by the board came as a surprise.

The colleague added, “You just don’t know how to read this.”

Assistant Superintendent Patricia Robinson is serving as acting superintendent.

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