Niles teacher used sick leave to coach Howland High Golf
By Jordan Cohen
School records released to The Vindicator reveal that fired teacher and former administrator Christopher Chieffo lost his job for declaring a sick day when he was actually coaching a Howland High School golf team in a tournament.
The records were provided to The Vindicator after the newspaper filed a request under Ohio’s Open Records Law.
The statute permits release of specific public records including disciplinary actions and work history.
The Niles school board fired Chieffo on Jan. 18 in a unanimous vote on the recommendation of Superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen. During the meeting, neither the board nor the superintendent offered any public explanation for Chieffo’s dismissal.
The board’s resolution of dismissal states that last Oct. 3, Chieffo reported off sick, but “in fact attended the Division I Boys Section Golf Tournament in Alliance … where he coached the boys golf team for Howland High School.”
Newspaper accounts of the tournament report the teacher was there and quoted him.
Those accounts may have led to an Oct. 31 meeting called by Thigpen “to address concerns that [Chieffo] misused and/or otherwise falsified sick leave on more than one occasion.”
The district’s bargaining agreement with the Niles Education Association, which represents the teachers, states that “falsification [of sick leave] is grounds for suspension or termination from employment.”
After the meeting, which was attended by NEA and legal representatives, Chieffo was placed on administrative paid leave and has not taught since.
Chieffo, 45, of Girard, had been a full-time teacher at Niles Primary School since 2009.
He later served as assistant principal, but eventually resigned that position and returned to teaching.
Thigpen and Susan Long-acre, board president, have declined to comment “on the advice of counsel.”
Attempts to reach Chieffo to comment have been unsuccessful.
His wife, Abbey, who is a teacher at Niles McKinley High School and NEA treasurer, indicated in an earlier email to The Vindicator that no comments would be forthcoming “until all of this comes to a close legally.”
Richard Sprague, NEA president, also declined to comment, while several calls to Chieffo’s attorney, Ira Mirkin, were not returned.
Under provisions of state law, Chieffo has 10 days from receipt of his termination notice to file a written demand for a hearing before the board or a referee.
According to the resolution terminating Chieffo’s employment, the board plans to request the referee if a hearing is demanded.