James Island Charter High Principal Bob Bohnstengel files lawsuit against school
James Island Charter High School will have a new principal for the 2014-15 school year, and that change appears to be another source of friction between Principal Bob Bohnstengel and the school’s Board of Directors.
The board decided last week to put Bohnstengel on paid administrative leave, and it tapped an assistant principal to run the school during his absence.
Bohnstengel responded this week by suing the school, and he wants a ruling that would allow him to continue leading the school this year, according to his lawsuit filed in Charleston County Court of Common Pleas.
He also is alleging defamation and intentional breach of his contract, and he wants compensation for damages that include lost income and benefits, severe psychological harm, pain and mental anguish, according to the lawsuit.
It’s unclear whether Bohnstengel voluntarily decided to retire in June 2014, or whether the school’s board forced him to do so by saying it didn’t intend to rehire him for 2014-15.
Caroline Cleveland, the attorney who’s representing the school, said no one has or is threatening to fire Bohnstengel.
“That’s getting a lot of play, and that’s not something that has been on the table,” she said.
Before Bohnstengel was on administrative leave, an emergency mandatory staff meeting was held at the school, and that didn’t have a positive effect on teachers or their working environment, Cleveland said.
That was one of a number of reasons the board felt that having him absent for a cooling off period would be beneficial, she said. They hoped it would give everyone a chance to step back, take a breath and calm down, she said.
“It got a little volatile,” she said. “The situation had become emotional, and that’s not conducive to a good school environment.”
The board wants to ensure a smooth transition to next year, and it thinks that might be better without Bohnstengel involved in picking the new principal, she said. It’s a pragmatic approach to their belief that the team choosing the new leader needs to be made of people who will be at the school in the future, she said.
“It’s what is in the best interest of the school,” she said.
That said, the board hasn’t made any decision about what it will do regarding Bohnstengel’s employment for the remainder of this year. The board is slated to meet Dec. 17.
Nancy Bloodgood, Bohnstengel’s attorney, has said this situation was sparked by a disagreement about who will choose the school’s next football coach. Bohnstengel’s lawsuit also says that he angered other board members by refusing to give a job to one board member’s brother and refusing to give school construction work to another board member.
Cleveland said the decision on the new coach was one of many issues. Overall, the school’s board wants a positive environment for the school as it plans its future direction, she said.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.