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York Suburban school board's Sept. 11, 2017, committee meeting

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The former superintendent of York Suburban School District — who on Sept. 11 vandalized two vehicles parked on school property — maintains she was vindicated by the York County District Attorney's Office of earlier criminal mischief.

Shelly Merkle also says she tendered her resignation to York Suburban's school board two days after the vandalism, but that the board instead placed her on medical leave. She made both statements in a Feb. 28 email.

"If there was substance to the claims of any inappropriate or unprofessional behavior prior to September 11, they would have been addressed by the YS School Board and it would be part of the public record," she wrote in her email to some former school district employees and community members.

"The DA's office did investigate the vandalism that took place prior to September 11 and I was vindicated," Merkle added.

'Patently false': But Kyle King, spokesman for the DA's office, said she was not vindicated.

"Merkle's assertions that the Office of the District Attorney vindicated her (regarding vandalism) prior to Sept. 11, 2017, are patently false," he told The York Dispatch. "Obviously, we cannot proceed forward ethically on any investigation that we do not believe we could prove ... beyond a reasonable doubt."

Merkle, 55, of Vicki Drive in Spring Garden Township, is in Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, a York County diversionary program that allows first-time nonviolent offenders to avoid convictions by instead completing court-ordered requirements.

In a public statement provided to the media Feb. 27, the day she was accepted into ARD, Merkle wrote that "these irrational and uncharacteristic actions were a direct result of underlying health issues that previously seemed unremarkable."

Lapses of awareness: In her Feb. 28 email to former colleagues, Merkle said she was "horrified" when she "became consciously aware" of committing some of the vandalism. She wrote she still doesn't remember committing part of it, citing "significant lapses in awareness" over a several-day period.

She noted she unwittingly vandalized the vehicles because of a combination of sleep deprivation and a previously undiagnosed medical condition. The York Dispatch is withholding details from the email about that condition.

Asked for comment about her assertions, Merkle emailed a statement saying she did not want to "engage in a tit for tat through the media."

"I have been treated with respect by the DAs office throughout this ordeal," she wrote. "Several months ago, they asked me a few questions about other acts of vandalism. There has been no further discussion or charges, and I assume I have been cleared. I also have respect for the School Board and whatever process they used to deliberate on this matter. My behavior on Sept 11 was irrational and completely out of character. Anyone who knows me knows that I was not well that night. With what I now know about my health concerns, I believe the Board's decision to place me on medical leave has proven to be rather wise."

More: Ex-Suburban superintendent apologizes, gets ARD

The background: Merkle on Sept. 11 scratched the paint on a Volvo sedan and Jeep Grand Cherokee owned or at least used by former Assistant Superintendent Patricia Maloney. She also put screws next to both vehicles' tires, according to court documents.

District surveillance cameras caught Merkle on tape committing the vandalism on Sept. 11. The school district and the DA's office have refused to release that footage, despite repeated requests.

Merkle was charged with two misdemeanor counts of vandalism and was accepted into ARD. If she successfully completes the program, the charges against her will be dismissed and she can have her record expunged.

Maloney, now assistant superintendent for Dover Area School District, submitted victim-impact paperwork to York County Court stating she had at least 10 flat tires and her vehicles were vandalized three times between April and September 2017.

Her attorney, Ed Paskey, has described it as a "pattern of vandalism and professional intimidation" going back to April.

"Obviously there’s a difference between someone being vindicated and someone not being charged due to a variety of factors, including insufficient evidence at the time the decision was made," Paskey said in response to Merkle's vindication claim.

He confirmed he has seen Merkle's Feb. 28 email to former colleagues but declined further comment, saying he doesn't see any benefit or value to responding "each time a new narrative of the (vandalism) is released."

More: Released emails shed new light on York Suburban superintendent’s departure

Resignation declined? In her Feb. 28 email, Merkle wrote that on Sept. 13, two days after the vandalism, she offered her resignation to York Suburban's school board president and vice president.

"The board chose instead to place me on medical leave and then decided to accept my resignation on Sept. 25. In the mean time, I was not permitted to communicate with the board or the staff," she wrote.

"I do wish that the board had accepted my resignation immediately," Merkle continued. "It was my plan to make a public statement which I believe would have short-circuited the speculation, rumors and misinformation."

Asked to comment, Corinne Mason, the district's director of finance and Right-to-Know Law officer, wrote in an email to The York Dispatch:

"The District is aware that Dr. Merkle has been communicating with District employees. Because the District has already issued a variety of press releases addressing Dr. Merkle's resignation and surrounding events, which cover the areas you question in your email, it sees no need to further respond to these communications (which were not directed to the Board)."

More: Police, York Suburban school board quiet on 'ongoing criminal investigation'

Unanswered questions: When asked a second time whether the school board declined to accept Merkle's resignation on Sept. 13 and whether it was the school board's idea to put her on medical leave, Mason replied, "The response submitted was the response to your questions."

School board members Ellen Freireich and Joel Sears, who is treasurer, declined comment. Sears said on March 1 he hadn't seen the email.

The other school board members who were on the board in September did not return messages seeking comment.

Merkle asserts in her email that York Suburban's school board would have made earlier vandalism incidents "part of the public record" had she been identified as the culprit. But the district has repeatedly refused to answer basic questions about Merkle and the investigation into her conduct.

"I also made several offers for out-of-court settlements, hoping to avoid further press for me as well as the district," she wrote. "Unfortunately, they were not accepted."

Apologies, thanks: Merkle, who spent 27 years at York Suburban, stressed in her email she wasn't corresponding in an official capacity — that she was writing to "sincerely apologize" for her actions and to thank former colleagues.

It took more than a week for the York Suburban School District to reveal that Merkle was placed on a medical leave of absence Sept. 14.

During that week, the district's top two administrative posts were vacant, as Maloney's previously announced retirement took effect Sept. 15.

Mason confirmed Merkle's absence Sept. 22.

Emails between York Suburban School District officials, obtained by The York Dispatch, appear to show a coordinated effort to clamp down on information about Merkle's sudden departure.

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'NOTHING goes out': On Sept. 14, Mason sent an email to then-school board President Lynne Leopold-Sharp and other board members, telling them not to say anything about the matter to other district staffers.

"There has been the question raised (of) what goes out to the staff," Mason wrote. "NOTHING goes out to the staff at this time. If you are asked anything regarding Dr. Merkle, 'Dr. Merkle is out on medical leave.'"

On Sept. 25, Merkle, who was making $186,000 a year, submitted a letter of resignation, which the board unanimously accepted that night at its regular board meeting.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.

 

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