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story.lead_photo.caption Matthew Wendt

FAYETTEVILLE -- School superintendent Matthew Wendt denied allegations of sexual harassment made against him by a district employee, according to a statement released Friday.

Wendt was informed of the sexual harassment claim through the employee's lawyer Suzanne Clark on March 14, according to a statement from Wendt's attorney, Elizabeth Robben Murray at the law firm Friday, Eldredge & Clark.

"Further, since March 14, I have fully cooperated with the school district's general counsel who is conducting the district's investigation into these allegations," Wendt said. "I have and will continue to make myself available to the school district to answer questions concerning the allegations."

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Wendt gave no further comment regarding the complaint. Neither Clark nor the district provided a copy of the complaint.

School Board President Justin Eichmann said Thursday the board retained Susan Keller Kendall, a lawyer from Rogers, to advise the board concerning the matter.

"Allegations were reported to the Fayetteville School Board regarding Dr. Matthew Wendt," Kendall said in an email Thursday. "Following receipt of the complaint and pursuant to Fayetteville Public School policy, an investigation was instituted and is ongoing. Because the investigation is ongoing, no further information may be released at this time."

Wendt has been performing his normal duties as superintendent, said Chris Lawson, general counsel to the district.

"If there is an allegation of misconduct that involves a student that would entail someone in question being placed on leave so an investigation could be performed," Lawson said. "That's not necessarily the case with sex harassment, at least without initial investigation."

Lawson said he wouldn't comment on whether they have amassed enough evidence for disciplinary measures to be taken.

"We have been diligently investigating this for three weeks -- even through Spring Break. This is a priority," Lawson said. "We want to complete all witness interviews before we make a report to the board and the board's counsel. All personnel decisions are determined on a case by case basis."

The Fayetteville School Board doesn't have a policy about placing a superintendent on administrative leave.

Wendt's employment contract, which was signed Jan. 25, doesn't contain a morality clause. Neither do the contracts for Jim Rollins, superintendent in Springdale, and Marlin Berry, superintendent in Rogers.

Bentonville Superintendent Debbie Jones' contract, like her predecessor Michael Poore, has a conduct section that states: "Superintendent shall at all times conduct herself with due regard for public conventions and morals and refrain from any act that: (1) tends to degrade her reputation or bring her, the District or the Board into public contempt, scorn or ridicule; or (2) that tends to shock or offend the community or notions of public morals or decency."

Clark wrote in a letter to Lawson on Monday her client experienced a hostile work environment and unwanted sexual advances by Wendt. She presented documentary evidence of the claim to Lawson on March 15, she said.

Clark's letter said Wendt threatened not to give her client a raise if she refused to have sex with him.

Clark said her client didn't take her complaint to the human resources department as the school district's policy on sexual harassment advises.

NW News on 04/07/2018

Print Headline: Superintendent denies sexual harassment claim

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