Though the criminal charge against James LaFountain has been dropped, the Mount Markham Elementary School principal still has not been allowed back to work more than a year after being accused of mishandling a student.
LaFountain, 58, was placed on paid administrative leave after being accused of grabbing a “disruptive” student by the collar of his jacket on Jan. 18, 2012, and “guiding” him to a counselor’s office when the third-grade boy refused to walk.
He was charged with endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.
After investigation by the Herkimer County District Attorney’s Office, the case was adjourned in contemplation of dismissal on Aug. 15.
Because LaFountain did not commit any wrongdoings in the following six months, the charges officially were dropped Thursday.
“I’m excited by the fact that they’ve been wiped off the record,” LaFountain said. “I’m troubled by the fact that I love my job and I miss the kids and I miss my work.”
LaFountain, however, still is out of work pending an administrative hearing to determine whether disciplinary action should be taken by the district. As a tenured administrator, he cannot be fired without going through the hearing process.
The hearing results are expected by the beginning of May, according to district officials.
In the meantime, the district is paying LaFountain’s nearly $82,000 salary, including benefits, and also paying an interim elementary principal, Martin Cross, about $300 per day, according to district officials. The district has not yet been billed for legal fees.
District Board of Education President Ronald Loiacono said he couldn’t comment because the process is ongoing.
LaFountain has worked for the Mount Markham school district for seven years and has served as principal, athletic director and dean of students.
“Usually, when the criminal charges are dropped, generally the district looks to resolve it and gets you back to work,” LaFountain said.
The district Board of Education has the option to suspend LaFountain with pay pending the hearing outcome, according to state education law.
Thus he could legally be rehired in the interim.
“In this instance, this has not happened,” said Robert Applegate, attorney for the district.
After the hearing decision, LaFountain or the board can file an appeal with the state Supreme Court, according to state education law.
“I hold myself to a higher standard than any public or private entity could or ever will,” LaFountain said. “In my college and professional baseball career, in business and in my public education career, that has been and always will be my goal.”