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Supporters rally to back beleaguered principal

Tears flowed as a standing-room crowd in support of embattled Lincoln Elementary Principal Missy Fitzsimmons turned out for Tuesday's Grants Pass School Board meeting.

Most members of the board were among Fitzsimmons' supporters, as the board heard a report on the discipline controversy that erupted two weeks ago after a photo of a Lincoln first-grader serving detention during lunch for tardiness — his view of fellow students blocked by a cardboard partition — went viral on Facebook.

The district has since changed Lincoln's policy — each school's policy is different and implemented by the particular school's principal — providing for a separate room to be used for students in detention.

Superintendent John Higgins told the board he has asked Human Resources Director Dan Huber-Kantola to take a look at each school's detention policy, which school officials refer to as "attendance/tardiness catch-up learning protocol."

"The matter was resolved in accordance with established district complaint resolution policy," Higgins said. "The parents met with Principal Fitzsimmons to share their concerns, and Director Kantola was there."

Higgins went on to talk of the large volume of phone calls and emails received throughout last week. The nationwide attention disrupted access to both the district office and Lincoln Elementary, he said.

"The vast majority of these responses were from uninformed, out-of-state respondents who used profanities, obscenities and threatening language directed toward our school and personnel," Higgins said. "The content of these calls made it clear that the callers had no knowledge of our district and the wonderful learning community Lincoln is and has become under the leadership of Principal Fitzsimmons."

Fitzsimmons defended the policy, saying partitions are used in schools across the country and that the goal is for the student to catch up on classwork that was missed due to tardiness.

"No way was this intended to be isolation," she said.

Alyson Berg, a fifth-grade teacher at Lincoln, broke into tears several times during her public comment address to the board in support of Fitzsimmons.

"Fitz is a valued and beloved principal," she said. "While the rest of the world is clinging to the (Facebook photo) we are moving on and doing what we do."

School Board Chairman Cliff Kuhlman echoed Berg's "move on" philosophy. The board did not take any action on the subject.

"I read a lot of emails. They were all from back East. I didn't answer them," Kuhlman said. "I'm not accountable to people in New Jersey or Florida. I am accountable to Grants Pass."

Board member Kathy Luther also was moved to tears as she spoke.

"This is my family," she said of the Lincoln elementary staff. "These people helped me raise my three kids … Missy you've been a great principal … You should all feel very proud of yourselves for what you do."