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Sheri McMahon, Published July 23 2009

West Fargo School Board’s conduct peculiar, indeed

The saga about the journalism teacher in West Fargo is perplexing. News reports indicated that “negativity” in school newspaper articles was an issue, yet the board states that newspaper content was unrelated to the “personnel decision” to no longer allow the teacher to advise the newspaper. One wonders what the “insubordination” alluded to means as well.

If the issue was newspaper content that continued after the adviser was ordered to make changes, then it is about content.

Board refusal to discuss specific personnel issues is clearly not about protecting the employee’s interest, if the employee is willing to have such information aired publicly. However, institutions such as school districts do sometimes exploit privacy laws and rules intended to protect individual interests – in order to shield themselves and further their own interests at the expense of the individual.

But then we have these governance models that say school district personnel decisions are between the superintendent and the personnel. Boards can only address personnel issues involving the superintendent. Although the idea of such a model may be to keep school districts from becoming uselessly embroiled in such issues, they also have some repulsive aspects – more corporate than community, more dictatorial than democratic.

Hidden from view is probably a complicated tangle of district politics and personalities including, at minimum, Principal Gary Clark, the superintendent, the teacher and board members – and the jostling of interests that goes along with that. What’s certainly lost is any clarity or sense in all this, and an end to the community’s frustration.