Ability to openly discuss the absence of a high school teacher under an internal investigation was thrust into public venue at the June 18th School Board meeting.

WALLENPAUPACK - Ability to openly discuss the absence of a high school teacher under an internal investigation was thrust into public venue at the June 18th School Board meeting. Amanda Madison, a freshman, was present to read a letter to the school board in the teacher’s defense.

Her father, David Madison, first spoke up, complaining to the board that Amanda’s teacher had been suspended for the investigation and from what he learned, the grade for that course won’t count. He further complained that the board and administration would not allow them to speak about the matter at the school board session in May.

In the daughter’s letter, read aloud, the teacher was identified by name several times.

A sharp rebuke to Mr. Madison followed, by School Board President John Spall.

There was still a month left in the semester when the teacher was put on paid, administrative leave. (Superintendent Michael Silsby said the teacher was not "suspended" but is on administrative leave.) During that time, no grade was filed, Mr. Madison said, who reached out to the principal, Jim Kane, and Superintendent Silsby. Madison said that the resolution was that the grade just wouldn’t count.

Silsby and Kane later explained to The News Eagle that there was a certified, substitute social studies teacher in the classroom. “All students are receiving a grade for the course,” Kane said.

Student’s letter

Madison said his daughter’s letter was submitted to the Pike County Courier and was published. The News Eagle, he said, refused to print it.

“What does that tell our kids? That we must be quiet, that we can’t stand up for what we believe was right? That is very, very sad.”

[Editor’s note: The father was told by The News Eagle that the letter would be considered once the matter is resolved by school officials. The teacher’s name has not been included in this story due to the ongoing investigation and interest in due process.]

He asked the board to let her read the letter aloud. “The decision you make right now will determine what people think of all of you,” he said. Spall allowed the letter to be read by the student.

Amanda first told the school board, “Like my father said, you are at a legal crossroad right now, and it needs to be known, and the voice of the students need to be heard.”

In her letter, she stated, “If I had to rate this teacher on a scale from one to ten on my scale of all my teachers, he would be one of the only three I would ever give a ten. This seems like a perplexing answer, does it not? In truth, it is not. I have my reasons for what I believe.

“One thing that makes him such an incredible teacher is his hands-on learning. He encourages you in such ways that are fun and playful. He keeps you paying attention on things like the Civil War…. It wasn’t boring, and it would have been if it was anyone else.

Thanks to him, I will never forget who John Brown is…

“Secondly, he is someone I could confide in. I trusted him with all my problems. I knew he would always give me incredible advice. He always had my best interests at heart. I always knew whatever problems I had, I was one hundred percent sure …I knew he would give me the most often advice.

Now I do not have that sense of reassurance.

“Thirdly, he has accomplished something no other teacher has ever been able to accomplish. He instilled self-confidence into me. For the past four years, I have never had confidence in myself. I had been chastised for being myself and being smart, so I lost all confidence. But, Mr._____, he changed that. He inspired me to be confident. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be speaking to you today.

“I used to answer his questions like this: ‘I bet I'm wrong but-‘ or ‘I bet I don't understand this.’ This is what he told my parents on the first parent teacher night. In that same breath, he gave me a brilliant speech. I do not remember his exact words, but he told me to be myself no matter what, and that everyone goes through this feeling.

“And so, I overcame it. I think his work is evident. Before, I was too afraid to do anything that required speaking or presentation. However, that has changed. I am a member of the Guidance Advisory Council, a Student Ambassador, and I was just appointed to be the yearbook treasurer as well. I am a self-proclaimed advocate for a better future for this school. 

Mr._____ was the one who gave me this confidence, this passion for rights that I have now. I will forever be thankful for that.

“Mr._____ had made such an incredible impact on my life. He has taught me so much, and not only social studies, but life skills. I can not imagine a Wallenpaupack without his seeing his greeting smile every third block on B days, or being able to confide in him.

“I can say without a doubt that I am very proud to be his student. Though I complain about how hard his work is, I know he always does it to challenge us.  He wants to see us succeed and it is brilliant.

“Overall, I could not of gotten luckier with who I have as my teacher. Even if he does not return, he will still live on as someone who impacted my life forever. It takes a college degree to be an educator, but it takes passion and heart to be a teacher.”

“Unfair”

Her father asked the board how incredibly difficult that was for a 14 year old girl to say this to all her administrators and teachers. “What’s the answer? Do you drag it out longer? If he did something so egregious, let everybody know. If he didn’t, every day this man is out of his position, is an indictment on him. This is completely unfair.”

“Terrible disservice”

Board President Spall reminded Madison that at the May board meeting, school solicitor Anthony Waldron explicitly explained that they have to guarantee the rights of due process and personal rights of the educator- confidentiality and privacy. Spall said that nothing has come before the school board on this matter for the board to take action.

“We cannot speak to this, even if there was something at our table, and there is not,” Spall said. “You did a terrible disservice to this gentleman, that you talked about to us tonight. You put it before a public meeting. It’s out in public …”

“if something does come before this board, we follow our legal obligations… Whether it is for Mr._____ or anyone else, we will certainly do our duties.”

Mr. Madison replied that he was speaking about how poorly his absence was handled, rather than the issue.

“His name was never disclosed by this board or anybody else, and that’s his guarantee of privacy and confidentiality, which we will continue to honor and we will,” Spall said.

Online petition

Madison asked at what point does the students’ online petition, asking for the teacher’s return, come into play? Spall said it would be when the board has honored its obligations. Madison added that the petition signed by “hundreds of people” is all over online.

The online petition describes the teacher’s merits, stating that the “reported incident” over which he was suspended, was said to be an “enormous misunderstanding.”