For the past several months, the public school system has been embroiled in a debate that has focused on the actions of a single individual. The suspended principal of Dominion High School has been simultaneously vilified and sainted, while the School Board and the district’s top administrators have been largely silent.
Most of the facts in the case have been shielded from disclosure by Virginia’s antiquated sunshine laws that afford governments broad cover to keep secret even the missteps and malfeasance of the public’s trusted employees.
That void has been filled with a divisive community debate and with a broad range of disturbing allegations—both about the conduct of the former high school band teacher and about efforts to cover it up.
What has become clearer in recent weeks is that it was not a school-based decision—made solely by the principal—to allow the educator to resign after being escorted from the school following allegations that he had inappropriate, but not criminal, contact with students. That decision was made by, or with the support, of the school district’s top administrators.
It was not until a newspaper reporter investigating a sexual assault allegation by the same man in a Florida school’s band room called nearly two years later that they realized should have done more. The initial response to that realization appears to be the traditional circling of wagons.
Regardless of whether the principal was a main actor or held out as a scapegoat in this disturbing case, it highlights the need for the School Board to demand more information about such personnel decisions. After all, no teacher is hired, fired or allowed to resign without a formal vote by the elected body. Yes, the School Board members voted—unanimously—to allow the band director to resign.
Typically, these decisions are treated as pro forma rubber-stamping of administrators’ decisions. This case shows they shouldn’t be. The School Board’s Personnel Committee could provide a good venue to vet such decisions. This could provide the elected representatives with more information about employment status changes and the ability to flag cases that should be reviewed by the full board—before they put their reputation, and Loudoun’s, behind them. Obviously now, it is responsibility too great to delegate.