June 25, 2008

Mesquite ISD Trustees Back Top Officials in Coach Case

By Matthew Haag, The Dallas Morning News

Jun. 25--Mesquite ISD administrators were "prudent and appropriate" in handling the investigation and departure of a title-winning high school coach accused of pawning school equipment, school trustees said in a written statement issued late Tuesday.

The statement came a few days after board members and Superintendent Linda Henrie met behind closed doors to discuss the investigation of Mesquite High School football coach Steve Halpin.

"Dr. Henrie and the staff were diligent in their investigation of this employee and his alleged actions," school board president Robert Seward said in the statement. "As a board, we believe that staff acted according to the rules prescribed by the state and the advisement of our attorney to notify the appropriate authorities in a timely manner."

In early May, Mesquite police told district officials that they were investigating Mr. Halpin in connection with electronic equipment missing from the high school sports offices. A few days later, the district announced that Mr. Halpin was retiring for health reasons.

The Texas Education Agency, which regulates public education in the state, requires school districts to notify it within seven days of learning that a district employee is under police investigation.

Assistant Superintendent Lanny Frasier sent a letter to TEA on June 5 -- a month after police informed district officials of their investigation and a week after The Dallas Morning News requested e-mails and documents concerning the missing sports equipment.

"Our understanding is that they followed rules," Mr. Seward said.

Dr. Henrie could be reprimanded or have her teacher's certificate revoked by the TEA for failure to inform the agency on time.

Mr. Seward said the district wanted to complete its own investigation before notifying the TEA. But Mesquite officials have said they generated no written investigation report on the Halpin case. District officials said Dr. Henrie's report to the school board last week was done verbally and without supporting documents.

Mr. Seward said no more meetings would be held to discuss the district's handling of Mr. Halpin's case and his departure.

After news of the police investigation became public, Mr. Halpin acknowledged that he's seeking help for a gambling addiction.


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