Missoula Catholic Schools president on leave following diocese investigation

Missoulian [Missoula MT]

March 2, 2022

By Skylar Rispens

Missoula Catholic Schools President Luis Hayes has been placed on immediate paid administrative leave following an investigation, the Diocese of Helena announced.

Former Loyola Sacred Heart High School Principal Kathy Schneider and former Athletic Director Jacob Alford will also remain on paid administrative leave for the remainder of the year.

None of the three administrators on leave will be offered contracts to return in the fall, according to Bishop Austin Vetter.

“This leave is for the remainder of the school year and is due to the fact that there was a failure on the part of these administrators to ensure that a necessary background check and training in safe environment policy were in place when hiring an employee,” the Diocese of Helena wrote in a statement.

Vetter’s decision to place Hayes on leave and continue Schneider’s and Alford’s leaves was received “with the full support of the Missoula Catholic Schools Board and current school administrators,” according to the diocese statement.

Vetter spent most of Tuesday speaking with the impacted administrators, board members and teachers, and capped off his time in Missoula at a meeting attended by roughly 70 people in the MCS community, including parents and students.

He refused to discuss individual personnel, but did clarify that a coach had been hired by MCS and that a background check had not been performed, nor did the employee complete Virtus training within 30 days of being hired.

All adults who work with or minister children and vulnerable adults in Catholic settings with MCS are required to complete Virtus training, also known as the Protecting God’s Children program, which is a three-hour educational session designed to help supervisors recognize warning signs of child sexual abuse and how to effectively respond.

“It’s very clear in our manual that it’s the administration’s duty and at different points each of the three affected were responsible in my estimation and judgment,” Vetter said.

“It was and is because we absolutely have to get this right, making sure when you entrust your children to us that we’re doing our part as we promise to create a safe environment that you can trust them to us,” he added later. “It’s non-negotiable.”

When asked by the Missoulian if the coach was consulted as part of the investigation, Vetter responded that they “consulted widely,” but did not elaborate. 

Tensions in the Missoula Catholic Schools community have been on the rise in the months following the December decision by Hayes to place Schneider and Alford on leave for the remainder of the school year with no explanation.

The diocese launched its investigation into the situation in early January.

Since then, the administration’s responses left many in the MCS community demanding answers, resulting in well-attended meetings and highly charged public comment. Eventually, faculty at Loyola took a vote of no confidence in the leadership of Hayes and MCS Board Chair Tyler Gilman, with two abstentions, citing a hostile and disorganized work environment since the beginning of the school year and failures to value employee input.

Another internal poll among high school teachers shared with the Missoulian indicated that a majority of them would likely not return to teach at the school in the fall.

A majority of teachers at Loyola have come together to create a group called “Teachers for LSH’s Catholic Legacy and Success Hereafter (TLC LSH)” and are represented by lawyers with the Ferguson Law Office of Missoula.

Though the teachers in the group “are encouraged by the recent decision,” they still have concerns, according to a Ferguson statement on their behalf.

“Even so, members of the TLC LSH remain concerned about existing issues that seem to have fallen outside the scope of this decision and remain unaddressed. Members have and will continue to seek resolution to these issues, but remain concerned over attempts to silence and ignore larger problems with the leadership of Missoula Catholic Schools, including the Missoula Catholic Schools Board,” the statement said.

Schneider and Alford have submitted a complaint to the Montana Human Rights Bureau in response to the conclusion of the investigation by the diocese, according to their lawyer, Liesel Shoquist of Milodragovich, Dale and Steinbrenner. The complaint was submitted by mail on Tuesday and has not yet been received by the bureau.

“We believe the Diocese of Helena’s statement is pretext to further conceal and ignore unlawful retaliation against Mrs. Schneider and Mr. Alford for opposing discriminatory practices,” Shoquist wrote in a statement provided to the Missoulian.

They allege that there are other staff at MCS who have failed to “ensure that a necessary background check and training in safe environment policy were in place when hiring an employee” and that those individuals have not been placed on leave.

The MCS board chair directed media inquiries related to the investigation to the Diocese of Helena and would not offer comment regarding the conclusion of the investigation, nor the allegations that other staff are noncompliant with hiring processes.

“This disparate treatment of our clients demonstrates that the Diocese’s decision to continue our clients paid administrative leave is subterfuge to conceal and ignore its pattern of unlawful retaliation against our clients,” Shoquist wrote in the statement. “Despite making every effort to remedy this matter internally, the diocese used its internal investigation to rationalize its refusal to acknowledge and address the unlawful retaliation.”