Community deserves better answers from Middlebury school officials

When school systems have personnel issues, they need to be as forthright as possible to minimize the distraction.

Posted on March 9, 2014 at 10:47 a.m.

German teacher Kevin Pack hasn't been in the classroom at Northridge High School for a number of days.

Middlebury Community Schools Superintendent Jane Allen won't say why.

When first asked, she wouldn't even acknowledge that she knew Pack or that he was a school employee. Later she said she can't answer questions because the school board hasn't acted.

She needs to say more. School officials need to be forthright and honest with the media and the community as they handle personnel matters.

Though teachers are in classrooms behind locked school doors, they play a public role as they instruct our children. Taxpayers fund their salaries.

The same goes for coaches on the sidelines and practice courts. They shape athletes outside the classroom.

Teachers in our community juggle the problems kids bring to school with changing expectations and curriculum geared toward state testing. Most of the teachers in our community are good. Many of them are excellent.

Occasionally even the good ones mess up. Ryan Culp violated a federal law by showing a creationism video in his classroom. Some have said the incident was blown out of proportion and students had t-shirts printed in his defense. But Superintendent Wayne Stubbs didn't speak publicly to give context or allow Culp to do so. Context would have helped a community understand what to expect from Concord's science education moving forward.

WaNee Community Schools Superintendent Joe Sabo doesn't seek media attention, but when NorthWood High School teacher Brooke Wilson acted inappropriately toward a student, the school system acted quickly and decisively. A press release was one of the actions that cut through the cloud of doubt without violating Wilson's rights as an employee.

When Hal Farmwald left the classroom abruptly, Goshen Community Schools Superintendent Diane Woodworth didn't answer all the questions or go into detail, but responded quickly with an explanation of the departure.

Elkhart Community Schools officials waited a bit to comment on why Troy Noble was suspended for Elkhart Central High School boys basketball games, but were forthright about the situation on Friday. And all along they said that he was still a classroom teacher, just not coaching.

Personnel situations are messy. But the Twittersphere and rumor mills churn even without good information. School officials who don't respond with even basic information about teacher behavior don't answer to the people who pay the salaries of both the teacher and the officials. And they create a distraction that isn't needed in our schools.

The Middlebury School Board met Tuesday and not a word was said in the public meeting about Pack or his status. There was an executive session Tuesday at which his status may have been discussed, but that hasn't been made public.

Allen responded to The Elkhart Truth's public records request without any information about his status or whether disciplinary action has been taken. She said no action has officially been taken. Yet he's not in the classroom.

Educators will occasionally violate the public trust and make mistakes. They will occasionally be disciplined and even suspended or fired. Most employers don't have to take such a recommendation to a board of elected officials. School systems must and need the latitude of dealing with employees forthrightly.

But public school officials need to respond to queries about teacher behavior with more than a "No comment."

The students they educate and the parents who trust them to do it well deserve more.

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