latte County R-3 School District will provide a letter of recommendation for the elementary school principal who sent a controversial tweet to a young school shooting survivor.
In June, Dr. Chad Searcey, who at the time was principal at Compass Elementary in the R-3 district, sent a tweet with pictures of himself and his sons shooting guns to David Hogg, noted Florida school shooting survivor who is now a gun control activist. Searcey’s controversial tweet went viral, garnering national and international media attention.
Searcey was placed on paid administrative leave by R-3, where he remained until a “separation agreement” between the principal and the district was reached in late August.
The letter of recommendation is one of the previously unreleased details of the separation agreement, which was recently obtained by The Landmark through an open records request that had been previously been denied.
Terms of that separation agreement included $275,000 payment to Searcey, with $58,750 eventually going to Searcey’s attorney.
Other notable inclusions in the separation agreement, which is more than six pages in length, include that the district “denies any wrongdoing and denies having violated Dr. Searcey’s rights under any federal, state or local statute or law and further denies any liability to Dr. Searcey in any respect whatsoever, for monetary damages or otherwise.”
The payment to Dr. Searcey “represents a compromise and does not and shall not constitute any acknowledgment by the district as to the truth of the allegations in Dr. Searcey’s claims or any admission of liability,” according to the agreement, which was signed by Searcey; Sharon Sherwood, president of the R-3 board of education; and Vicki Diggs, secretary for the board of education.
Other notable inclusions in the agreement, in addition to the letter of recommendation and the denial of any wrongdoing by the district include:
*The district and Searcey used a mediation service to assist in coming to an agreement. Eischens Mediation Services mediated the deal, with R-3 agreeing to pay the costs and fees to Eischens for both parties.
*The district “will not disparage Dr. Searcey’s performance as principal of Compass Elementary or otherwise take any action which could reasonably be expected to adversely affect Dr. Searcey’s personal or professional reputation.
*Similarly, Searcey “will not disparage or otherwise take any action which could reasonably be expected to adversely affect the personal or professional reputation of the district, its insurers, current and former members, employees, affiliates, successors, assigns, officers, agents, directors, servants, representatives, board of education (collectively and individually) and all other entities affiliated with or related to the district.”
*Searcey agrees he will not seek employment with the district in any capacity in the future.
*Searcey agrees “he is not a prevailing party in this matter for any purpose.”
*Searcey and the school district “agree to maintain this agreement, its terms, and negotiations confidentially to the extent permitted by law, and agree to use their best efforts to maintain confidentiality of this agreement to the extent permitted by law.
*The parties agree that “they will not discuss, publicize, or otherwise disclose the terms of this agreement, the negotiations leading up to it, or the circumstances surrounding the settlement agreement and mediation now or in the future, except as provided herein or otherwise required by law.”
*The school district “understands that without breaching this provision it may disclose this agreement to their auditors, lawyers, administrators, and state and federal agencies. Additionally, without breaching this provision, the district my disclose any documents that it must provide by law pursuant to state or federal statute, including but not limited to (the Sunshine Law).” Searcey will be notified “in the event this document is requested or disclosed to any state or federal agency, or other party. In the event of a lawsuit alleging a claim for breach of this confidentiality provision or other lawsuit, the district may disclose the terms of this settlement agreement to its legal counsel to the extent necessary to defend against such action,” the agreement states.
After the separation agreement and settlement payment was announced by the school district in late August, The Landmark put in a Sunshine Law request seeking a copy of the entire separation agreement. The school district responded by denying the request, indicating the separation agreement was a personnel document and therefore a record protected from public disclosure.
The Landmark, in editorials, disagreed with the school district’s interpretation of the law on this matter, as did Jean Maneke, attorney for the Missouri Press Association. The Landmark has had no trouble acquiring separation agreements involving other public taxing entities in Platte County. Attorneys, including the press association attorney, had encouraged The Landmark to file a complaint over R-3’s stance on the matter with the Missouri Attorney General.
The newspaper had not filed a complaint by the time Dr. Mike Reik reached out to The Landmark via phone on Nov. 14-15. Reik told the newspaper he would have further conversations with the school district’s legal counsel to see if there was the possibility for the school to soften its stance on the matter.
On Dec. 4, R-3 emailed The Landmark a copy of the separation agreement, with the district’s custodian of records Vicki Diggs saying in the email:
“As the custodian of records for the Platte County R-3 School District, I am providing an additional and updated response from the District to your request dated Sept. 1, 2019. At the direction of Dr. Mike Reik, superintendent of schools, district legal counsel was instructed to further review the statutory position on the release of the settlement agreement between Platte County R-3 School District and Dr. Chad Searcey. The further review has been completed (and legal counsel for Dr. Searcey has been informed of your request for the agreement) and, as a result, determination has been made to release the settlement agreement to you in accordance with your request for information under the Missouri Sunshine Law. The agreement has been attached to this message. We believe this fully satisfies your request of Sept. 1, 2019.”