Medford School District says it will apologize and increase training efforts after the School Board decided two district employees behaved unprofessionally while working with the Wilson Elementary Parent-Teacher Organization.
The employees and Wilson parents ran into disagreements in spring 2017 while selecting new playground equipment. Two Wilson parents, Molly Mitton and Tracy Deal, filed a complaint in September with the superintendent against Jeffrey Morejohn and Ron Havniear alleging unprofessional behavior and discrimination during their interactions in two meetings.
The complaint claimed that Morejohn described playground items the parents picked as “bully magnets,” “gangbanger havens” and “love nests" and refused to identify acceptable items in the first meeting. During the second meeting, the complaint alleged, facilities director Havniear raised his voice and he and Morejohn said Wilson couldn't have equipment types installed at other schools in the district because of higher crime in the surrounding neighborhoods.
In November, Superintendent Brian Shumate decided the allegations of unprofessional conduct and discriminatory behavior were unfounded. Another complaint about unclear guidelines for playground installation by PTOs was partially founded, he said. Mitton and Deal appealed the decision to the School Board the following week.
Board members reviewed the complaint and the investigation in a closed executive session Monday. At a public work session that immediately followed, the board voted to modify the superintendent's finding on unprofessional behavior. The other two findings were not disputed.
A district investigator interviewed most of the people present at one or both of the meetings, including then-Wilson Principal Gerry Flock, who is now principal at Lone Pine Elementary, and a representative from the play equipment company. Two Wilson parents present at the first meeting were not interviewed for the investigation.
Mitton said she filed the appeal to the board in part because the investigator didn't speak with everyone in the rooms during the meetings.
"I think it was obvious that I did not think the investigation was thorough enough," she said.
Shumate's decision did not list the reasons why the "not founded" conclusions were reached, but Mitton said she requested, and received, the full report from the investigator whose work informed the superintendent's letter.
She said she was encouraged by the board's decision to overturn the finding regarding unprofessional conduct.
"All we ever wanted out of this process was to make it better for people in the future," she said. "And even though we had a terrible experience, we hope that out of that, something good comes."
District Communications Director Natalie Hurd said the district respects the board's decision.
"We appreciate all of the work this PTO did in raising the funds for the Wilson playground, and we regret that this misunderstanding ever occurred," she said. "We’re definitely going to use this situation to improve our processes."
The district posted guidelines on its website in November for PTOs trying to install equipment in the future. Board Chair Karen Starchvick said the board didn't dispute Shumate's findings regarding discrimination because it believed the employees discouraged the equipment for safety reasons. The guidelines will be helpful to avoid confusion in the future, she said.
"(The complaint) certainly caused us to reflect and improve our process," she said. "And I think that was the result that the parents were trying to get to."
— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ka_tornay.