Editorial: Responsibility at the Top

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.

5 thoughts on “Editorial: Responsibility at the Top

  • 2017-03-15 at 8:47 pm

    All very True. The School Board should definitely demand more information, they should be more engaged, and THEY SHOULD hopefully listen to the thousands of parents and students who are urging them to kindly bring back this amazing Principle. That is what is best for this community and this school.

  • 2017-03-15 at 8:54 pm

    Good editorial but it doesn’t go far enough.

    LCPS and its board are a black box. They keep all information to protect themselves. Let’s look at just some of the incidents.

    1. After the parents of a student who committed suicide questioned whether proper procedures were followed, the LCPS suicide prevention protocol was removed from its website. During a subsequent school board meeting, it was Supt Williams who pleaded with the board (in coded language) to restore those procedures online. You had multiple board members grandstanding and claiming they knew nothing about the procedures being removed. Clearly some board members (or all) were lying.

    2. Here, it appears the school board was clueless when they approved Damron’s resignation. Supt Williams had only been on the job for 6 months. He was busy hiding (with the help of the school board) the disastrous PISA results of LCPS from their Vision 20/20 plan in the fall of 2014. But clearly, LCPS and Williams allowed an educator who sexually harassed (at least) students to resign and keep his license. They enabled his abuse of kids in Florida.

    From providing grossly inflated budget forecasts to the BOS to defrauding the US DoE so they can grade 99.51% of their teachers as “great”, this school system is all about deception. Their officials commit perjury in courtrooms, retaliate against those who speak up, and try to pin the tail on the donkey (Brewer) when they get caught exposing students to predators.

    Remember these incidents when the next school board election comes around. Any of these school board members could have open and honest town halls. They could be transparent and accountable to the public. They could demand laws be followed. But all the public hears are crickets. You are expected to be a good little taxpayer, pony up and ask no questions. What are you going to do?

  • 2017-03-16 at 10:09 pm

    I’m not sure about the Board’s incumbents, but I don’t think it makes sense to include the newest members in any accusation of a cover up or misconduct in this particular case. I assume they are as new to the inner workings of the school board and administration as anyone else would be and are likely to be unfamiliar with any “conspiracies” that began far before their election to the board. They will only know what they’ve been told and what they’ve observed so far. Time will tell what they’ll be able to discern from their observations and experiences.

  • 2017-03-19 at 6:35 pm

    The ramifications of this event are now being felt county-wide it seems. Recently, county employees were informed, per County policy, that they may not write letters of recommendation or supply references for other staff. All such inquiries must be directed to County HR and County HR is allowed to only confirm facts of employment (dates of employment, salary). I don’t know for a fact that this new policy is a result of the Dominion High School principal firing but it has been suggested that it is. What this effectively means if that if you have been a county employee and now seek employment somewhere else, you won’t be able to get a good job reference no matter how hard you’ve worked for the county or how excellent your job performance has been. This puts many many people at a great disadvantage when looking for a new job.

    • 2017-03-20 at 10:22 am

      This defeats the lessons learned from this whole episode. If LCPS just gives dates of work, Damron could just as easily be hired by Florida.

      The point of the investigation should be to enforce ethics rules when employees violate them especially invoicing safety issues.

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