Left in the Dark - The Missourian: Columns

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Left in the Dark

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Posted: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 5:00 pm

It would seem that if you take a job with a public entity, or accept a scholarship from a public university,  and something goes south, and there are issues involving personnel, explanations would be in order, especially if these individuals are in the public’s eyes. The problem today is the entities have to be very careful what they say or they will end up in court.

The lack of information leads to all kinds of speculation and individuals involved can end up with a negative image.

Last week several parents appeared and spoke at the Washington School District meeting about the removal of Eric Lause as principal of South Point School. He has been reassigned to another position in the district. The parents wanted to know the why behind the removal of this very dedicated and capable  school administrator. They didn’t get an answer.

The school board has a public comment period on its agenda, but members do not respond. They listen and perhaps consider action related to comments later. When it comes to personnel, they have to walk a legal tightrope. The law really protects personnel of public entities and they should have some protection. Personnel matters under the law can be topics of executive or closed sessions. The Missouri Sunshine Law allows personnel, real estate and legal subjects to be discussed in private. There are valid reasons for those exceptions to the open meetings, open records law. In personnel matters, the individual involved can go public with an explanation if they choose to do so. Usually, they do not go public.

While the law is meant to protect personnel of public bodies, it can be a double-edged sword because it leads to all kinds of speculation and can put the individual in a bad light.

From what we know of Eric Lause, he is an exceptional school administrator who was in a tough position. South Point School has a large enrollment — probably too large. Public schools have to accept practically every student who comes to the door. The fact that a student may be a troubled child, lacking in discipline, makes no difference. It’s “hands

off” in administrating discipline. We’ve heard all kinds of horror stories from public school teachers and a few principals about disruptive students and how their hands are tied in handling them.

A major problem is the parents of disruptive students. They often do not support the schools, teachers and administrators. There are parents who threaten to sue if their spoiled offsprings are touched.

We are not saying this is the case with Eric Lause since the public has not been provided with any information about what led to his reassignment. That’s the  district’s policy — closed lips based on the law and advice from an attorney. We simply are relating past exposure and experience.

We are sure that some schools have had incidents when a teacher or administrator was somewhat physical with a disruptive student. It can be justified and it can be too physical.

What a difference it is today compared to decades ago in an age when school personnel could administer punishment without fear of landing in court. We witnessed the discipline in that age. We were on the receiving end of some of that old-school discipline. We benefited from it. We also remember when parents backed the school personnel. Yes, there were a few exceptions to that, but overall parents were supportive. In fact, punishment was dished out at home when parents learned of a serious incident involving their child. This occurred in a private school, which is a different setting. However, there was stern discipline in public schools in those days. There also was such a thing as a woodshed where parents administered physical punishment. We remember seeing an example of that when the student returned to school the next day.

Again we don’t know the details of the reassignment of Eric Lause. It is unfortunate that he no longer is the principal at South Point.

Then we have the incident of a star Mizzou basketball player who was suspended and then decided to leave the Tigers when information about the reason for his suspension became public. He had been the subject of a police investigation, but had never been charged. In fact, there were two incidents. University officials also were tight lipped about the player. They wanted to protect him and at the same time discipline him. There were enough facts to warrant the suspension.

MU, and all major universities, have student athletes on scholarships who come from an unfavorable environment and they can be discipline problems. MU does everything possible to help its student athletes. The goal is to form the total person to be a credit to whatever community he or she eventually resides. MU is very serious about this and there are countless success stories.

Eventually, the truth emerges. In the meantime, speculation control should be exercised.

/opinion/columns