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As paid leave dragged on, former headmaster collected $375,000

A former acting headmaster in Boston, placed on paid leave more than three years ago amid an investigation into credit card fraud, collected $375,000 in pay during his absence, which he and his wife used to start an artisan ice pop venture in Delaware.

Now Queon Jackson, who briefly lead Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, is back.

The school system quietly cleared Jackson to return to work on May 9 and gave him a desk job at the agency’s headquarters and the title “special assistant.” The move ended a paid leave of three years and three months, during which he did no work for the school system, according to city payroll records.

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Richard Weir, a School Department spokesman, said in an e-mail the district decided to end Jackson’s leave after learning in a routine review of the case earlier this year “that no criminal charges relative to the investigation from 2013 had been filed against him.”

Jackson declined to comment.

Queon Jackson returned to work on May 9 and was placed in a desk job.
Queon Jackson returned to work on May 9 and was placed in a desk job.(Madison Park Technical Vocational High School)

The length of Jackson’s paid leave is considered unusual and comes as the school district is being forced to make painful cuts. Paid leaves in school systems typically last no longer than a year, experts say.

But Jackson’s case reflects the thorny issues school systems face when union-protected employees are under federal investigations that drag on for months or years without charges being filed.

Jackson, who was classified as an assistant director at the time of his paid leave, is a member of the school system’s union for midlevel school administrators, and the school system would have had to establish just cause to fire him.

Thomas Scott, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said superintendents are “caught between a rock and a hard place” when no charges have been filed but an employee’s credibility is so damaged that it makes it difficult for the person to work.

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The choice, Scott said, comes down to this: Either put the person in a low-profile desk job and face a potential public backlash, or fire the employee and run the risk of a lawsuit. He said superintendents often go with the latter if the employee has been charged with an egregious crime, such as sexual assault against a minor.

“It’s a Catch-22, but at some point you have to make a judgment call,” he said.

Boston’s school system currently has 34 employees on paid leave.

Matthew Cahill, executive director of the Boston Finance Commission, said he thinks the school system handled the leave appropriately, although he wished investigators had moved more swiftly on the case.

“It’s an unfortunate predicament for the city to be in,” he said. “Three years and three months is a long time.”

It remains unclear whether the investigation has concluded. The Secret Service declined to comment.

The school system originally placed Jackson on leave in February 2013, after learning the Secret Service was investigating him for an alleged role in fraudulently obtaining credit and then not paying the bills. But Jackson had contended that he was victimized by someone who stole his identity in an attempt to buy a car.

The leave came as the Globe was questioning the school system over Jackson’s promotion a few months earlier to acting headmaster despite a questionable past.

In 2000, a few months before the district hired Jackson as a teacher, he admitted to sufficient facts for a finding of guilty in a drug case and a domestic abuse case that required him to take an anger-management course. That type of plea is commonly used by defendants to avoid a criminal record.

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The Globe previously reported that both cases were dismissed after six months.

The drug case involved a 3-pound package of white powder initially believed to be cocaine. The Drug Enforcement Administration arrested Jackson in January 2000 at Logan Airport after he allegedly placed a bag containing the package into another man’s car. The other man told police he had arranged for Jackson to travel to Houston to buy cocaine.

The drugs turned out to be fake, and Jackson, who was a state social worker at the time, was charged with possession with intent to distribute counterfeit drugs.

Jackson eventually landed the job as acting headmaster in September 2012 after a search for a permanent leader fell apart. He was popular among many students. More than 100 of them staged a walkout after he was placed on leave, chanting “Bring back Jackson.” Many students viewed him as a role model for how to succeed when given a second chance.

In his new role as special assistant, Jackson is working with the system’s operations division on projects, including the development of a principal’s handbook. He also is helping the division coordinate site visits for a controversial school facilities master plan that is under development, which is sparking concerns among many parents that schools could close.

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He is receiving an annual salary of about $120,000, equivalent to what he made as a school administrator.

Weir said Jackson is well suited for the new position, saying he “has in-depth knowledge of BPS practices and policies from his experience holding various administrative and managerial positions during his tenure in the district.”

But Jackson has been accumulating many absences over the last two months, missing at least 16 days, including seven without pay, according to a Globe review of payroll records. The tally doesn’t include time he took off in mid-July.

His ice pop business appears to be time consuming. The business’s website bills the frozen treats as hand-crafted, with all natural ingredients from local farmers, and features such flavors as peach lemonade, cucumber mint, and yellow watermelon.

Jackson’s business registered as a limited liability company in Delaware last year and serves up its ice pops at birthday parties, school functions, and other celebrations.

Questions persist about where Jackson lives. In May, Jackson told the news site DelawareBlack.com, which profiled his ice pop business, that he and his family recently moved to Delaware “after learning a family member was grappling with health issues,” and noted that he was working in the School Department in Boston.

He also said in the story he often serves as a mentor, using the bumps in his own life to show people how challenges can build character. That way, he said, “you can pursue with determination whatever your goals may be.”

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James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter@globevaznis.