LOWELL — Tri-Creek School Corp. Superintendent Rod Gardin has resigned amid allegations of “grooming” behavior levied against him earlier this year that both he and the school board continue to insist are false.
The Tri-Creek school board accepted the school leader's resignation effective Wednesday, and during a special meeting Thursday morning approved a settlement agreement between the district and Gardin.
Joseph Curosh Jr., Gardin's attorney, said after the meeting that "this matter has been amicably resolved," and declined to provide details of the settlement agreement.
In a joint news release, the school board and Gardin said his exit from the district comes after "an anonymous campaign on the internet of false sexual allegations of misconduct to discredit Dr. Gardin."
In January, an anonymous letter emailed to school administration, members of the school board and Indiana State Police expressed concern over relationships developed by Gardin with students in the Tri-Creek district, according to a previous Times report.
A copy of the letter obtained by The Times alleged Gardin's behavior included trading texts, offering rides, giving “longer than comfortable” back and shoulder rubs, and said that he would often interrupt instruction to take students on walks, buy them breakfast or offer them food and candy.
An internal investigation into the matter found no evidence of sexual abuse, harassment or misconduct against Gardin, school officials said.
School officials said "multiple requests" were made for the sender of the anonymous letter to come forward with evidence of the alleged behavior and to participate in the investigation, but the sender did not do so.
"Despite the findings of the Title IX investigation, debate and speculation fueled by social media postings concerning this matter continues," the board and Gardin said in a news release.
"The school board concluded that Dr. Gardin could no longer effectively serve as superintendent and lead the school district with the confidence of the community."
Interim leader named
In wake of the allegations, Gardin and the school board "amicably agreed" that he needed to step aside, though the board's investigation found no evidence of sexual misconduct, "in order for the school corporation to be able to fully focus on the mission of educating children in preparation for the future."
Former superintendent Debra Howe was tapped to serve as interim superintendent in February, and will continue in the role while the district searches for a new superintendent, the news release states.
Howe previously served as superintendent from 2011 to 2018.
"Both parties are deeply disappointed that the circumstance have warranted a situation that required the board to ask for Dr. Gardin's resignation," Thursday's news release states. "He will miss the students, teachers and staff at Tri-Creek, and he knows they will continue to thrive as they move on to even greater achievement."
School Board President Douglas Ward thanked Gardin for his service and "many accomplishments," during his almost three-year tenure as superintendent.
Gardin took the helm of the school corporation on July 1, 2018.
"The school board appreciates the significant contributions that Dr. Gardin made to Tri-Creek and the positive impact he had on many programs, and most importantly, the lives of our students," Ward said in the release. "We are grateful for his leadership at the critical time during the COVID-19 pandemic. His work as superintendent has put our school district in a strong position both financially and academically."
Ward added the school district's future is bright and wished Gardin well in his future endeavors.
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