Uproar, outrage, and melodrama seem to rule these days in Washington Local School District. The election of disgraced former Superintendent Patrick Hickey to the school board has set off a firestorm of disruption from Mr. Hickey’s critics, his supporters, and from Mr. Hickey himself.
Mr. Hickey was elected in November despite being banned from school property after an incident at a 2016 Whitmer High School basketball game that included giving an unwelcome embrace to then-interim Superintendent Cherie Mourlam.
Mr. Hickey also has been accused of harassing a female school board member, as well as a married couple who are teachers employed in Washington Local. He resigned as superintendent in 2015, shortly before the school board could entertain a resolution to fire him. There were a total of 37 charges against him, compiled by a law firm hired to investigate Mr. Hickey’s behavior.
Those charges, which came to light during the school board campaign, included allegations that Mr. Hickey failed to inform Washington Local that, in 1990, he left Addison Community Schools in Addison, Mich., after accusations that he had inappropriate relationships with students.
Since his election to the school board, Mr. Hickey has demanded that the board remove the ban and permit him back on school grounds. He has also demanded that school employees unblock him on social media and that he be given sideline passes to Whitmer playoff football games.
Mr. Hickey is a master at creating contention and chaos. The students of Washington local are an afterthought.
So, what next? Where is all this heading?
It will all have to play out.
The challenge for serious educators and parents in the Washington local district is to not buy in to the psychodrama and to stay focused on the kids and their education.
It is understandable that parents and other residents who are concerned about Mr. Hickey’s presence in the schools or his influence as a board member will want to speak out at public meetings. Many have done so passionately. They have every right to speak their minds and be heard.
It is also predictable that social media will be a platform where much of the debate about how to respond to Mr. Hickey’s presence will be heard.
It is important, however, to recognize the limits of these strategies. If the goal is to shame Mr. Hickey into behaving better or pressuring him to resign, it is an unrealistic goal. He is not likely to do either of those things.
A better approach is watchful waiting.
Ohio law does not provide for recall elections to remove school board members. And none of Mr. Hickey’s actions before he was elected can likely be used to force him from office.
School board members who commit misconduct in office, however, can be removed via the state court system. The misconduct that can lead to this process involves willfully neglecting a person’s legal duties as a board member or abusing the board member’s authority. Mr. Hickey is likely, over the course of the coming months, to neglect his duty and abuse his authority.
Shouting down Mr. Hickey and his supporters will lead nowhere. It will only diminish Hickey critics. Instead, we must trust that cooler heads will prevail. Concerned parents should focus on their kids, help them deal with their schooling and the disruption within the district, as best they can; hold Mr. Hickey accountable going forward; and watch and wait.
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