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Prospect refuses to confront clear problems

We can’t say for sure that the allegations against Prospect Charter School Principal Brian Purnell are accurate in every respect — because Purnell, his boss, Superintendent Doug Jantzi, and the Prospect School Board refused to respond to our reporter’s repeated requests for comment, citing privacy laws. What we can say is that there is clearly a problem in Prospect, and the School Board’s attitude toward resolving it is not helping matters.

Mail Tribune education reporter Kaylee Tornay spent months interviewing students, staff and parents about their concerns over Purnell’s management style and disciplinary policies. The picture that emerged, reported in a story in Sunday’s paper, revealed that teachers feel Purnell has created an unsafe and unprofessional environment and that students don’t trust him to protect them from other students’ harassing behavior.

Some teachers have left the school and others are actively looking for jobs elsewhere. At least one student dropped out; a parent said she is considering moving her daughters to other schools.

The district’s response to these reports has been to dismiss them — Jantzi rejected a formal complaint filed by the teachers union, calling its allegations unfounded, but directly responded to only about a third of the points raised in the four-page document. He recommended that staff work directly with Purnell to address their concerns.

That was the School Board’s response as well. District policy, apparently, is for complaints to be handled first by the principal — even if he is the target of those complaints — and the board refused to take any action on the teachers’ complaints because that policy was not followed.

If teachers and students don’t trust an administrator to deal fairly with them in the first place, it’s hardly fair for the School Board to expect them to take concerns about that individual directly to him before addressing the matter as his employer.

District officials also refused to respond to our reporter’s questions, citing privacy laws protecting students and employees. But nothing prevents the School Board, Purnell or Jantzi from responding in a general way to questions about disciplinary policies without commenting on specific individuals.

The board did offer to respond to our reporter — in a closed-door executive session called specifically for that purpose. Not only is that not a legitimate reason for an executive session under state public meetings law, but reporters are not permitted to report on matters discussed in executive session, rendering the entire exercise useless.

In a written statement, the School Board said it had not received “any public complaint” about the issues raised by the Mail Tribune. Well, the allegations are public now. The board is not serving district patrons, school staff, students or, for that matter, Purnell, by refusing to address them.