POLSON — A specially held school board meeting last Thursday sought to clarify issues that have come about after a particularly heated expulsion hearing for a middle-school student.
“We did an expulsion based on a specific policy, but that was not clear to the public present,” board chairperson Theresa Taylor said. “I can’t guarantee it won’t happen again, but I will work my hardest to not let it happen.”
The issue arose when parents Toni Todaro and Suzanne Gyzeny opened the public comment period of the board’s monthly meeting on Oct. 18 by citing concern for the safety of their 7th grade daughters at the Polson Middle School.
According to Todaro, the board had recommended expulsion for a child who allegedly pointed a weapon and threatened to “kill” her daughter on the playground. Todaro attended the public portion of this child’s expulsion hearing, where, after a closed session, the board concluded that pursuant to board policy, they would expel the child for 365 days. When the child showed up to school on Monday, Todaro was both furious and scared, she said, for her daughter’s safety.
Both women had hoped for at least a phone call to alert them of the suspended child’s unexpected return, but several board members spoke up saying they were not able to call the parents.
“There was nothing swept under the rug, nothing done to overrule the board and there were lots of things we took into consideration,” trustee Brian Havlovick said of the board’s decision to reinstate the student. “Someone said something about not receiving a phone call, but there are privacy issues and our attorney said it was illegal.
We are bound by laws as well. It may have sounded like we didn’t hear you, but we did.”
The board reiterated the fact that they stood behind any decision made by Superintendent David Whitesell and that he did not act in opposition of the board.
“Now I know who put the child back into school: it was all of you,” Gyzeny said. “You’ve violated federal law and you’ve created a dangerous precedent. You are our trustees; we are supposed to trust you. You violated my trust of you guys.”
Taylor said that issues under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) kept her from calling the parents and letting them know, but trustee Robert Hanson said that seemed the least the board could have done.
“I have an issue without giving a courtesy call,” he said. “I don’t see how FERPA enters into that at all.”
Besides the calling issue, safety still seemed to be the major concern during the meeting, a concern that Taylor attempted to alleviate.
“Every expulsion hearing is difficult,” she said. “They are never as cut and dry as they appear. I’ve also never made a decision if I believed it would have jeopardized any child’s safety, I would not have stood by it.”
While the meeting attempted to clarify the issue and ease concerns, Todaro did not seem convinced.
“Every single one of you is to blame and I do not feel comfortable having my children in your schools,” she said.