Bullying, harassment cause for resignations, say De Soto patrons
In the words of more than one De Soto school district patron at Monday’s school board meeting, the recent resignations of Doug Sumner, superintendent, and Jessica Dain, director of teaching and learning, have left feelings of shock, anger and disappointment in their wake.
In a theater packed with community members and teachers, patrons filed up to the microphones in front of the stage one after the other — some simply to express their gratitude to Sumner and Dain and others to share their concerns that there may have been more to their resignations than new job opportunities with other districts.
Though no specific name was mentioned at the board meeting — which was moved last week from its original location at the district’s administration building to De Soto High School’s theater — rumors had circulated via emails among patrons prior to Monday that board member Scott Hancock was largely at fault for the resignations. In an email received by The Dispatch March 3, Hancock is accused of bullying, harassment and intimidation of administrators and teachers, both during and outside of school board meetings.
Comments made Monday echoed those same charges.
“The present climate for our administrators and teachers in this district is so repugnant that there is no doubt that if changes are not made, Dr. Sumner and Dr. Dain will be just the first of many to leave,” said patron Karen Wall.
Said parent and teacher Holly Schreiber, “I am saddened that our district is being governed by a board of education where one member is questioning the values, integrity and competence of our educational leaders. I have witnessed behaviors at board meetings that are not only unprofessional, but do not follow the guidelines of the civility clause in your own policies handbook.”
The civility clause in question states that “it is the policy of the school district to treat everyone — fellow employees, students, parents, patrons, visitors, anyone having business with the district — with fairness and respect. The district also expects that anyone having interaction(s) with employees of the district will treat them with professionalism, courtesy, dignity and respect.”
No specific, first-hand accounts of alleged misconduct by Hancock were shared at the meeting, and Alvie Cater, district spokesman, said no formal complaint has been made against any board member at this time. Neither Sumner nor Dain have elaborated “on their personal reasons for taking new positions,” he said. Sumner will begin a new position as assistant superintendent of human resources next school year with the Shawnee Mission school district, while Dain has been hired to serve as assistant superintendent of teaching and learning with the Olathe school district.
Hancock, whose term expires in 2017, has been at the center of a number of heated debates with board members and administrators alike since being elected in 2013 — most notably involving the district’s ongoing technology initiatives.
In a Pitch.com article, he denied any wrongdoing.
"I'm aware of the allegations," he said. "All of them are without merit and untrue."
Parent Anh-Nguyet Nguyen disagrees, saying in a Feb. 11 personal blog post, “Shame on Scott Hancock for his clearly inappropriate behavior — lacking professionalism, respect or any degree of decorum. Shame on him for using his position to push out Dr. Sumner.”
In the blog, Nguyen asks Hancock to “resign with dignity.” Without naming names, she also spoke out at Monday’s meeting.
“There are multiple reports of inappropriate behavior by a specific board member. I respectfully ask for your resignation by this Friday,” she said to an eruption of applause. “Otherwise, I will start the process necessary for recall.”
Both Wall and Nguyen admitted they had not been regular attendees of board meetings, and had only heard about the allegations made against Hancock from others.
Board members, Hancock included, followed their usual practice of not responding to any comments made during the patron input portion of the meeting — though board president Angela Handy later read a statement:
“As elected board members, we have a responsibility to our patrons to ensure that we maintain the highest standards in all areas of our job description. … The tone and the spirit of the board meetings have been suspect. We owe it to our patrons to always reflect a professional, encouraging, appreciative and cooperative environment to work within.”
She asked that a planning session board meeting be scheduled for a later date to “look at the manner in which we conduct district business.”
Following the meeting, Hancock wouldn’t address any of the comments made, but only noted how many more community members had showed up that night than usual.
“It would be nice if we had this many patrons attend all the meetings, so that they could find out first-hand the issues in the district,” he said.