With school starting at Riverside Brookfield High School this week, one familiar face will be missing for the second straight year.
Adam Gibbons, a 17-year veteran teacher at Riverside Brookfield High School, is on an unpaid leave of absence as he was last year.
Gibbons, who had been RBHS’s only teacher of Advanced Placement European History during his time at RBHS, is taking another leave of absence this year after sitting out 2016-17 following student complaints about him which resulted in the strongest possible administrative action against Gibbons short of termination.
On Feb. 23, 2016, the District 208 Board of Education voted to issue a Notice to Remedy to Gibbons, who began teaching at RBHS in 1999. The administration had received complaints about Gibbons’ teaching and perceived favoritism toward certain students.
There were concerns that Gibbons was too friendly to certain students, and two girls in Gibbons’ AP U.S. History class were transferred to another teacher’s class during that school year.
A Notice to Remedy outlines changes in conduct necessary for a teacher to keep his job.
Gibbons formally requested his first leave of absence on April 25, 2016 and it was granted by the school board on May 10, 2016. In February 2017, Gibbons asked that his leave be extended for another year, a request the school board granted.
Teachers at RBHS can take an unpaid leave of absence for a maximum of two years without losing their positions. While on leave from RBHS, Gibbons cannot work full time at another school.
Gibbons will have to decide by next February whether to return to RBHS next year.
“Let’s just say it’s not certain,” Gibbons said. “Basically, I think it’s up to me to choose to return or not.”
According to a letter RBHS Principal Kristin Smetana sent to Gibbons on May 12, 2016, the Notice to Remedy instructed Gibbons to “maintain respectful and appropriate relationships and boundaries with students; and not do anything, either verbally or by your actions, that would appear to show an improper affinity toward a particular student or small group of students, including female students generally.”
The Notice to Remedy directed Gibbons not to invite any students to his home in the far west suburbs for any purpose without written authorization from an RBHS administrator.
In the May 12, 2016 letter, Smetana wrote that she had received student reports that Gibbons may have violated the terms of his Notice to Remedy. She wrote that he had invited a student, or students, to visit his home over spring break, that he required students to purchase a review book not included in the course fee, and continued to show perceived favoritism to certain students.
Smetana had met with Gibbons on April 29, 2016 to discuss her concerns. Also present at the meeting was Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction Kylie Lindquist and RBHS English teacher Wendy Cassens, who at the time was the president of RBHS teachers union, and served as Gibbons’ union representative.
During the meeting, according to Smetana’s letter, Gibbons told Smetana that he had jokingly told a student to visit his home when the male student said that he was going to be in the area.
Gibbons acknowledged that he allowed students who purchased to review book to take tests with a partner. He denied engaging in conduct that could appear to show an improper affinity toward a particular student or group of students.
In her letter, which the Landmark obtained as part of a public records request, Smetana told Gibbons that he had technically violated the Notice to Remedy, but that she believed that that he had not realized that he had done so.
She clarified her expectations to Gibbons in five bullet points and warned him that any further violation of the Notice to Remedy, including “even relatively minor violations in good faith,” would justify a recommendation to the school board to fire him without any further clarification or attempts at remediation.
Smetana declined to comment when asked about Gibbons and the Notice to Remedy.
Gibbons also declined to comment when asked about the Notice to Remedy.
“I have nothing to say about any of these personnel matters,” Gibbons said.
The 42-year-old Gibbons said that he is on leave because his wife obtained a full-time teaching job last year and he has two young children.
“I’m taking the kids to and from school and their practices,” Gibbons said. “It didn’t make sense for us both to be full time.”
He said that he has been working on local history books while also working part time as tutor. Gibbons second book, The Illustrated History of Campton Township, was recently published. Gibbons is also working on the second volume of a book he has written about the history of west suburban Geneva.
Gibbons’ AP European History class was mostly taken by sophomores and was often the first AP class taken by many academically gifted students at RBHS. He was known as an intense, intellectual, and demanding teacher. Some students felt that Gibbons focused too much on small details instead of overarching themes.
The problems with Gibbons in the 2015-16 school year seem to have been mostly centered on an AP U.S. History class that he taught.
Multiple students in the class complained to the administration about Gibbons and were interviewed by administrators. Among other things they believed that Gibbons favored students who had taken his AP European History class over those who did not.
Gibbons said that it was his decision to take a leave of absence.
“They did not ask me to take a leave, I chose to take one, “Gibbons said.
Gibbons told the Landmark that the Notice to Remedy did not play a major role in his decision to take a leave of absence.
“I’d rather not say anything about it,” Gibbons said.
Gibbons was asked whether he thinks he would be welcomed back at RBHS.
“Well it depends on who you’d be referring to,” Gibbons said. “I would rather not answer that question.”