Should We Be Surprised by School Board Decision? – It was a long night on Thursday, sitting, waiting – the mind wonders under those conditions. At some point the thought came to mind that, with four members, maybe they would end up deadlocked. As it turned out there was never even a second vote to overturn the appeal.
There is a natural tendency to second guess a governing body when they make a decision that one tends to disagree with. In this case I would tend to believe that is a little dangerous – after all, the public has not read the report. Even the “accused” or the “appellant” was not allowed to read the report until apparently they were in closed session – that is part of why the process took so long.
My first thought then on Thursday night, which quickly bled into Friday morning, was how could the community second-guess the school board when only the school board and administrators actually read the report?
That is where Gina Daleiden’s dissent is critical. First, let me give Ms. Daleiden praise. For the last month, she spent a lot of time trying to get this process right. She worked hard to inform the public as much as possible and she worked hard to make sure the process was as open and transparent as possible.
At the end of the day, I feel that she and I saw pretty close to eye-to-eye on this issue. Her words on Thursday night make it very clear that she did not see that this issue rose to the level that her colleagues did.
“I do believe that our district’s response to complaints and the way that we handle the procedure and the investigations needs to be in proportion,” Gina Daleiden stated. “I do believe in this instance the district went Code 3 on something that maybe didn’t warrant that.”
“I do not find in reading the investigation that there is a preponderance of evidence to support the findings and the conclusions,” she said. She added that they “ended up jumping right into the deep end of the pool” and she would have preferred to have seen this resolved “at a much lower level, a whole lot earlier.”
I think the entire school board is serious about looking to alternative conflict resolution processes, and those of us who believe that restorative justice is an approach that could help resolve these conflicts before they end up in an official board hearing should take some solace in the apparent commitment that the board has to look into those very types of conflict resolution processes.
Unfortunately in this case, while Julie Crawford seemed very willing to go through a mediation process, it takes two to tango and apparently Nancy Peterson was never open to resolving this in a way other than what unfolded.
Ms. Daleiden’s response gives those of us who disagree with the board ruling the solace that we have a solid foundation to believe that the majority of board members simply saw this conflict in a different light. Like Gina Daleiden, I see this as a tempest in a teapot that Nancy Peterson attempted to incite into something wholly disproportionate to what it was.
Investigator Alexander Sperry would apparently agree when he concluded the absence of “willful mal-intent” on the part of Julie Crawford. Without malice, how can we understand the notion of retaliation?
Retaliation can be generally understood as the act of seeking revenge upon another. In this case, it seems that the school board understood the act of retaliation in the loosest of all possible terms, embraced in the notion that the decision to cut the Peterson’s daughter was “influenced at least in part” by the broader conflict between Nancy Peterson and Julie Crawford.
The three board members apparently took any evidence at all that “retaliation” occurred as necessary and sufficient to uphold the district and investigator’s ruling. But the weakness of the evidence becomes apparent in the school board’s own remedy to the transgression.
Rather than banning Ms. Crawford, they essentially encouraged her to simply reapply for her former position and all but promised to hire her back upon her doing so. And while there are some technical questions, apparently, Ms. Crawford will even be allowed to be a volunteer assistant coach for the boys right now.
Some people took this remedy as some sort of compromise, but I take it slightly differently – a tacit acknowledgement that the Petersons made a mountain out of a molehill in all of this and that the district became a willing partner in this drama.
These thoughts are clear when you re-read Tim Taylor’s comments, where he stated that this was the first time, he said, that he and the board had a chance to listen and ask questions of Ms. Crawford.
“I was given great comfort by that opportunity,” he said. “What I saw and heard has definitely affected my actions here this evening and my thoughts about this entire process.”
“Our decision here this evening, will allow that pursuit of hers – which she spoke to eloquently earlier – to continue,” Tim Taylor stated. “There were some mistakes made. What we now need to do is learn from those, not repeat those, and move forward.”
In other words, reading between the lines, it seems that, unlike the public comments throughout by Nancy Peterson, Julie Crawford offered contrition and at the same time a passionate plea to be able to continue coaching and the board was clearly moved by her passion.
All of this leads me to once again ponder the depths to which Nancy Peterson sunk herself. It seems that Nancy Peterson allowed her anger and ultimately her need for revenge to consume and destroy herself. “Wrong us, shall we not revenge,” is necessarily softened by the introduction of notions of forgiveness and redemption, which are the better angels of our nature.
The tragedy becomes clear in the resolution by the school district. Had Nancy Peterson – as we have stated so many times – simply stayed silent, all of this could have been avoided. She was undone first by her inappropriate comments in July and then by a series of actions her family took: the leak, her husband’s comment, and then her column was the ultimate immediate cause of her resignation.
Four relatively insignificant and ultimately unnecessary actions in a much broader string of conflicts caused her to resign her position less than 18 months into her elective term.
Thursday’s ruling brings her no vindication, however. If anything, it paints her actions in an even more negative light. For if the district responded with a Code 3 to what Gina Daleiden described as “something that maybe didn’t warrant” that type of response, Nancy Peterson declared global thermonuclear war in what should have been handled by a few rounds of diplomatic talks.
Thursday’s result made her actions leading up to and following this immediate conflict completely unnecessary and underscores the tragic nature of her resignation.
One can only wonder what would have happened had her op-ed been more conciliatory and shown a willingness to move past the situation rather than digging into Defcon 1 position where retraction and mediation could not have occurred.
In many ways, the second fallout in this might be Sheila Allen. We have really avoided discussing this during the interplay, but Sheila Allen was board president last year when the escalation occurred. It is easy to second guess decisions that could have been made. However, at least in retrospect, the fact that no one spoke out when Nancy Peterson publicly criticized a district employee last July is troubling.
On Thursday, Sheila Allen made some strong points in her lengthy prepared remarks. We do not know when those remarks were prepared but some of them were clearly thoughtful.
Personnel issues are troublesome and problematic for both the public and board members.
Ms. Allen was absolutely correct when she said, “I hear loud and clear your desires for transparency.”
She added, “It is very hard to say I can’t comment because it’s a personnel issue. I do not make personnel laws… but I’m bound by it. So please understand that your elected officials are doing the very best they can with the information that they have and hopefully that information contains all sides of any issue.”
At the same time, she went where Robert Peterson went with the issue of anonymous comments.
Sheila Allen would state on Thursday, “I’m very concerned about the social media postings that occurred surrounding this issue. I am very supportive of an open dialogue and absolutely support public input and dialogue.”
“But,” she continued. “I’m very concerned about the tone and accusations that have occurred behind the façade of anonymous comments. Let us be the models for our children of civil dialogue and working together to solve our community problems.”
The tech in me wants to make the point that social media comments are by their nature NOT anonymous and Ms. Allen is conflating the posts in comments sections of the Vanguard and Enterprise with social media.
That technical point aside, I actually disagree with her core point. There is a perception, and I think Tia Will laid it out very clearly yesterday, that the Vanguard is a focal point of strongly negative anonymous comments.
The truth is that, while there was a time when the comments were extremely vitriolic in the Vanguard, we have worked very hard over the years to clean them up.
We have largely avoided mean-spirited attacks that lack any substance – those get pulled quickly by our dedicated moderator. What remains can be pointed but largely substantive comments.
There seems to be a tendency in the community to dislike comments that are critical of public officials. At the same time, they miss the clear benefit of what to me was a huge crowdsourcing endeavor, where public comments led to follow-up inquiries and many of the comments and stories were confirmed. Some were not and we tried to debunk the false information and confirm the correct information.
As we wrote last week, it was because of the ability of the public and those with key information to come forward in a safe and non-threatening environment that the truth came out over the last few weeks.
So while I understand the concern about contentious nature of the comments at times – I do not think, at least on the Vanguard, the comments were over-the-top. We avoided attacks on the minor children and largely focused on attempting to understand the facts. I would argue this played a beneficial role in the process rather than a negative one.
No one likes to be criticized and no one likes conflict, but this was a contentious issue and I’m proud that the Vanguard’s discussions never degraded into tit-for-tat personal feuding.
One of the fallouts that we will be watching is the impact of this controversy on the city council election. Yesterday there were some fairly prominent citizens, including an elected official, who posted on Facebook that they were pulling their endorsements of Sheila Allen.
Is this a temporary phenomenon that will quickly pass? It is easy to react in the immediate aftermath in frustration and anger. It bears watching.
Finally, I am troubled by the appeals process itself. Julie Crawford was not permitted to see the report by investigators prior to the appeal hearing. Board President Gina Daleiden has likened the process to a quasi-judicial process.
But if that is the case, then the withholding of the report and hence the nature of the accusations against Ms. Crawford renders the entire process closer to something out of Kafka’s “The Trial” where the protagonist had to navigate through a system without knowledge of the charges against him or the process under which he would be subjected.
How Ms. Crawford could offer an adequate defense without knowledge of the report is mindboggling, but then again par for the course.
The immediate controversy is over. The public who supported Julie Crawford will understandably be upset by the immediate ruling, but the school board has tough issues to tackle.
We do not believe the conflict of interest policy goes nearly far enough; the district needs to make a lot of changes to this process. It is our belief that this conflict should have never risen to the level that it ultimately did.
We remain troubled by the large expenditure of money, time and community turmoil and the fact that no one within the district or the board was able to stop this runaway train. Really, this was unacceptable.
And now we are left with the possibility of an appointment process and four new board members by November. Stay tuned.
—David M. Greenwald reporting