Resident files lawsuit against GPPSS superintendent, school board

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published January 14, 2020

 Grosse Pointe Woods resident Steve Saigh, right, pictured with his attorney, Michael Schwartz, at a press conference Jan. 8, has filed a lawsuit against Grosse Pointe Public School System Superintendent Gary Niehaus and the district’s Board of Education after Niehaus banned him from the district.

Grosse Pointe Woods resident Steve Saigh, right, pictured with his attorney, Michael Schwartz, at a press conference Jan. 8, has filed a lawsuit against Grosse Pointe Public School System Superintendent Gary Niehaus and the district’s Board of Education after Niehaus banned him from the district.

Photo by Maria Allard

 Niehaus, pictured, and the school board are defendants in athe lawsuit. Niehaus has banned Saigh from several locations in the district because he feels Saigh has created a “hostile work environment” for district staff.

Niehaus, pictured, and the school board are defendants in athe lawsuit. Niehaus has banned Saigh from several locations in the district because he feels Saigh has created a “hostile work environment” for district staff.

File photo by Sean Work

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GROSSE POINTES/FARMINGTON HILLS — They attempted to resolve their differences during a face-to-face meeting Nov. 5, but now both sides will try to settle their differences through the court system.

On Jan. 7, Grosse Pointe Woods resident Steve Saigh filed a lawsuit in Wayne County Circuit Court against Grosse Pointe Public School System Superintendent Gary Niehaus and the GPPSS Board of Education.

On the following day, Jan. 8, Saigh and his attorney, Michael Schwartz, held a press conference at Schwartz’s office in Farmington Hills to further discuss the lawsuit. Saigh’s wife, Wendy, who unsuccessfully ran for school board in November 2018, also attended.

The defendants in the case are accused of denying Saigh his constitutional rights by banning him from certain buildings in the district, including Grosse Pointe North High School, which his son will attend next year. At press time, a freshman open house at North was scheduled for Jan. 15, which Saigh hoped to attend. The Saighs also have two daughters who graduated from North before the ban.

“The superintendent of schools seems to believe he has more power than the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the state of Michigan,” Schwartz said. “He has taken it upon himself to ban my client of going to North High School. It’s a public school. It’s public property. Niehaus is banning (my client) from doing what every other parent will do … to accompany your son or daughter.

“My client noticed a number of things that were going on in the school district in terms of the administration, the policies of the administration, the protocol of the administration,” Schwartz said. “He would actually have the temerity to tell the administrators that he didn’t believe they were doing the proper thing. The superintendent was unhappy with my client. For that he is being punished by the school superintendent.”

The case has been assigned to Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Craig Strong. Schwartz was hoping to get the matter settled in time for Saigh to attend the open house Jan. 15.

Saigh is not seeking monetary compensation. He is seeking injunctive relief. An injunction usually consists of a court order demanding that one party stop doing something that is damaging to another party.

Saigh, 53, called the ban “a violation of my civil rights.”

“I’m outraged. They have tarnished my name and my reputation,” Saigh said. “This is a group that is trying to bully me into silence. I am one of the administration’s leading critics, which is why they are trying to silence me. I’ve tried every other avenue to reason with the administration and their attorney.”

Saigh has been critical of the North administration since the summer of 2018, when longtime North baseball and football coach Frank Sumbera said he was terminated, although district officials said he retired.

“I asked administration why they let him go,” Saigh said, adding that he never received an answer.

Saigh also wanted information regarding what he felt was a defective helmet that his daughter wore during field hockey; she suffered a concussion playing the sport. It was around this time that Saigh began questioning various practices of the district via email to Niehaus, North Principal Kate Murray, North Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Michelle Davis and the school board.


‘I’ve never threatened anyone’
On Oct. 16, Niehaus sent a letter to Saigh letting him know that he is not permitted on the premises of the district at any time except for at Parcells Middle School, where his son is a student; open school board meetings or other district-related public bodies; and other events with Niehaus’ permission.

The letter was shared with Murray, Davis, Deputy Superintendent Jon Dean, Deputy Superintendent Robert Maleszyk and school board President Brian Summerfield, who resigned from the board Jan. 2 to spend more time with his family.

According to the letter, Niehaus said Saigh’s actions have been “mean” and “nasty,” and that he has “engaged in a bitter campaign of harassment and intimidation of Davis and Murray.”

“You have been known to have commented that you would do ‘whatever is necessary’ to have Ms. Davis replaced as assistant principal and athletic director,” the letter states. “You have also demonstrated on several occasions that you have an explosive temper and a very short fuse.”

“I’ve done nothing in this letter that he claims. I’ve never threatened anyone,” Saigh said. “(I’ve) asked for specific information on what I supposedly have done. Nothing was provided.”

“If bad things have gone on, they would have taken this to court,” Schwartz said. “You can’t ban somebody because you didn’t like what they say.”

Saigh believes he has sent approximately 250 emails to Niehaus over the past 15 months about various issues.

“I’ve written emails for over a year now,” Saigh said. “I like to put everything in writing.”

Niehaus, however, said he has received at least 600 emails from Saigh during that time. In the letter, Niehaus said emails from Saigh will be blocked from the email accounts of all district staff. The superintendent said he plans to bring the emails to court with him and maybe pick out some for the judge to read.

“It was harrassment,” Niehaus said. “There’s no reason he needed to make comments to Kate and Michelle the way he was.”

In the meantime, Niehaus said Saigh was welcome to attend the open house Jan. 15.

“If he asks, he will be allowed to go,” Niehaus said.

Niehaus also said that there are a handful of community members who are currently banned from the district’s premises.

“It’s an ongoing issue we deal with,” he said. “Parents come in, are not well behaved, lose their tempers. We ask them to leave or not (come) back for the rest of the school year.”

Board of Education Trustee Cindy Pangborn attended the press conference. She stressed that she was not there representing the school board.

“I came as an observer. Anything I say does not represent the Board of Education, only myself,” she said. “I came here to represent myself and my constituents. I want to make sure I understand what the accusations are. I wanted to make sure I had all the information.”

The legal matter is “very upsetting,” Pangborn said. “I’m surprised it came to this and it’s very disappointing.”

According to court records, a status conference on the case is set for April 7 at the 3rd Circuit Court in Detroit.

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