The North Tonawanda Board of Education unanimously approved a motion to terminate the probationary employment of their athletic director on Wednesday, who has been on paid leave since September.
After keeping tight-lipped about the decision to put athletic director Jeffrey Alger on leave, school officials still aren’t sharing much about their reasons for firing him. Superintendent Greg Woytila, who made the recommendation that the board consider terminating Alger's employment, said the district would be risking a lawsuit if they were to reveal specific details about the situation.
"I made a recommendation based on his two and a half years in the district and basic performance reviews that I've been doing with him over the years," Woytila said.
One matter that may have been a factor in the decision was Agler's involvement in a situation where he apparently used a wrestling move on a female student athlete. The student’s parents said last month that their daughter characterized the incident as being a playful interaction and that she described it as “no big deal."
Woytila has stated that this incident is not the only issue the district has taken with Alger's performance.
Several community members turned out to speak both against and in support of Alger at the board's Wednesday meeting. Joanne DalPorto, a former school board member, spoke against him, saying that the district’s foremost priority should be to protect students and support them, referencing the varsity soccer team, which witnessed the incident between Alger and the female student.
“The reason I'm standing up here tonight is I need those young ladies, every one of them, to know that there are parents in the school district, their own parents, their friends' parents and people who represent them within the school, that will back them up and believe in them. I want them to understand and see that right will end up prevailing no matter what happens."
DalPorto also said she received an email that was sent to “almost 300 people,” urging members of the community to come out and show support for Alger. She noted that she had never heard of the person who sent the email, one Carl Demas, and said that all the recipients appeared to be sports parents.
Colleen Osborn, another district parent and former school board member, also received the email. She expressed concern that someone had access to her email address, which she said she doesn't freely give out.
Woytila confirmed that the district is investigating the origin of the email and that it appears to have come from a "system that's related to sports." He also said he doesn't recognize the name of the sender of the email.
The email implies that the decision to fire Alger goes deeper than just the incident with the student. It also references a Buffalo News article, in which Alger’s attorney Stephen Jones, of Nixon Peabody LLP, stated that the district is trying to “railroad” Alger with “baseless allegations.”
DalPorto’s husband, Lou DalPorto, who said he spent much of his career as an attorney practicing education law, noted that the decision to terminate Alger is not a public decision but rather an “unfettered” right of the school board, given Alger's probationary status. He also said that much of the information circulating about the situation hasn’t been factual.
“It is better to make a decision in good faith and defend it than to tenure someone under pressure,” he said. "If they find out at a later date that was the wrong decision, it is way more costly to let someone go who is tenured."
Several people spoke out in support of Alger as well. Kristopher Clester, an assistant principal at North Toanwanda High School and president of the North Tonawanda School Administrators Association, urged the council to “give Mr. Alger all the consideration he is due.”
Shawn Williams, president of the NT Athletic Association, said the decision to fire Alger was "not just a loss to the district, it's a loss the community."
Lauren Prims, the district’s varsity lacrosse coach, spoke highly of Alger, saying he has been an active athletic director who has made a point to be involved in various aspects of the district's athletic program. She credited him with encouraging students to try out for for teams and being supportive of them, something she said she never experienced when she was a student athlete.
"He's been so supportive of the girls and boys lacrosse programs," she said. "He's never once failed me on anything I've ever needed or wanted to talk about. If I had an issue, it was solved right off the bat. Our athletic director has demonstrated to me that he genuinely cares about the student athletes and the rest of the students in the school."
Alger has mostly declined to comment on the situation, only stating that he has been in mediation with the district and that a lawsuit is likely to follow his termination.
Alger did not return a request for comment by deadline following the district's vote. His termination will become effective on Jan. 5.