SUNDAY EDITION | Murky circumstances surround investigation into - WDRB 41 Louisville News

SUNDAY EDITION | Murky circumstances surround investigation into Academy @ Shawnee athletics director

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JCPS says Harry Vinegar, who has been at Shawnee since July 6 and handled middle and high school sports, was reassigned on Jan. 23 pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation, and the district withheld public records that could explain the nature of t JCPS says Harry Vinegar, who has been at Shawnee since July 6 and handled middle and high school sports, was reassigned on Jan. 23 pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation, and the district withheld public records that could explain the nature of t

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The athletics director of the Academy @ Shawnee has been reassigned to a menial job in the Jefferson County Public Schools central office for two months as the district conducts an investigation into his conduct.

JCPS says Harry Vinegar, who has been at Shawnee since July 6 and handled middle and high school sports, was reassigned on Jan. 23 pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation, and the district withheld public records that could explain the nature of that inquiry.

Vinegar, who is temporarily working in student assignment at the central office, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Karin Bennett, the head of Shawnee’s parent-teacher association, said she understands the district is looking into questionable spending and missing equipment from the school’s athletics program.

“I have asked around, and what I’m finding out is yes, there’s been equipment that was supposed to be at the school that’s not at the school,” she said. “There’s T-shirts or cheerleading mats, that type of thing that yes, it’s not at school and it should be.”

While JCPS declined a request for interviews on the investigation, the district’s denials of WDRB News’ open records requests would appear to support Bennett’s assertion. The district wouldn’t turn over copies of Shawnee’s athletics department’s expenses and balance sheets because those records are “part of an ongoing investigation.”

Vinegar was reassigned “pending further review and investigation,” according to a Jan. 22 letter from O’Dell Henderson, the district’s director of labor management and employee relations.

But the letter does not disclose what’s being investigated.

“You are to have no contact or communication with faculty, staff, parents of students, or students or be on the campus of Shawnee High School or be involved in any athletic activities or functions,” Henderson wrote to Vinegar. “… You will be contacted regarding any employment related decisions.”

Bennett, the head of Shawnee’s PTA, said she was recently questioned by Shawnee’s then-interim principal Dan Withers regarding the whereabouts of a freezer that Bennett donated to the school so that cold concessions could be sold to generate income for athletics.

Bennett said Vinegar came to pick up the freezer from her home last October and told her he would be storing it in his garage as he renovated Shawnee’s concession stand.

He later brought the freezer to the school, but its battered condition surprised her, she said.

“It’s completely damaged and it’s unusable,” Bennett said. “There could have been an opportunity for us start selling, say, ice cream bars or something at the concession stand. While other schools that have things and have a lot of them, just being able to have another $50 in the concession stand makes a big difference for our school.”

Withers did not return a call or message seeking comment.

JCPS also provided emails between Vinegar and his brother Robert Vinegar, who serves as the district’s athletics and activities coordinator, that might shed more light on the district’s investigation.

In one email chain, Shawnee Assistant Principal Jeronda Majors tried to set up an Oct. 20 meeting with Harry Vinegar to “discuss athletics.” Vinegar emailed back on Oct. 17 to say that he wouldn’t be available and asked the school’s leaders to send him a list of their concerns regarding Shawnee’s athletics department.

“When you and I spoke on last Friday, the main issue was cheerleading mats,” Vinegar wrote in response to Majors. “That question has been addressed. I agreed to meet with your leadership team but you also agreed to send me a list of your concerns in advance to speed things up. Pep rally, homecoming, active event supervision and assistance, and athletic budgeting have all been met. I look forward to moving forward in a positive mind set and improving the cultural climate and communication in this building.”

Majors emailed him back two hours later with a list of issues to discuss with Vinegar: team fundraising and concessions, student activity accounts, purchase orders, communication, supervision expectations, facility requests and work hours.

About 20 minutes later, Vinegar emailed his brother with a request.

“I need to talk to you about this when you have time,” he wrote.

In an email to WDRB News, Robert Vinegar said, “My brother and I do not talk about work regularly. He has asked me a few general Athletic Director questions, but nothing that is directly connected with this inquiry.”

Robert Vinegar, whose duties include handling middle school athletics, did not elaborate on the inquiry, and he declined to comment further.

JCPS Communications Director Allison Martin said Harry Vinegar did not report to his brother and was supervised by Shawnee administrators.

As for the issue of the cheerleading mats, Bennett said her understanding was that, “They had them and then they were taken away because either a bill wasn’t paid or funds were mishandled.”

This inquiry isn’t the first time Vinegar has drawn scrutiny from JCPS investigators, according to investigations obtained from the district through an open records request.

In February 2014, a Ramsey Middle School student accused Vinegar of verbally assaulting him and his grandfather and predetermining a failing grade in gym class. More than two years later, Ramsey students accused Vinegar of shoving another student through an entryway in August 2016.

Witnesses say Vinegar raised his voice at the student in the first incident after pulling him from a basketball practice, but the investigator found the verbal attack allegation unsubstantiated. The student’s accusation that Vinegar predetermined his failing grade was ruled inconclusive, although the investigator said that Vinegar should have contacted the student’s guardians “in a timely manner” after the sudden grade drop.

In the second investigation, Vinegar told the investigator that he “barely touched” the student in question after he stopped suddenly in front of him as they went to the assistant principal’s office. The student said Vinegar pushed him in the middle of his back with both hands as they entered the office area.

The district suspended him without pay for five days following the 2016 inquiry, according to a Nov. 17, 2016, letter in his personnel file.

As a parent, Bennett said the situation and potential wrongdoing at Shawnee makes her angry.

But given the issues that Shawnee, one of the district’s lowest performing schools, has faced over the years, a sense of complacency has also taken hold, she said.

The school has taken a teacher from a classroom to serve as its temporary athletics director, leaving one less teacher in Shawnee’s classrooms, adding to Bennett’s concerns.

 “It’s very frustrating because Shawnee is a school that we need every dime, every penny,” she said. “… Things like this seem to always happen.”

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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