Less than 24 hours after the last ballot was cast in Washington Local Schools’ close and contentious board of education race, sitting board President David Hunter said he has fielded calls from district parents and staff “voicing concern regarding election results.”
He asked the crowd at Wednesday’s board meeting “to step back, take a deep breath, and allow our superintendent, treasurer, and our staff to do the job that they were hired to do: educate and care for our students.”
“It’s time for the ugliness, the hatred, and the viciousness to stop,” Mr. Hunter said. “We do not all have to agree, but we must learn to disagree in a manner that is civil and can serve as an example to the students and the community we serve.”
The school board race was a close one, with Mark Hughes, former WLS Superintendent Patrick Hickey, and former board member Tom Ilstrup finishing atop a field of nine candidates vying for three open seats. Mr. Hughes received just shy of 15 percent of all ballots cast. The other two winners each captured about 12.5 percent.
The fourth and fifth-place finishers, Irshad Bannister and Melanie Garcia, earned 11.78 percent and 11.65 percent of the vote, respectively.
Incumbents Eric Kiser and Patricia Carmean lost their reelection bids, finishing seventh and ninth, respectively.
Mr. Hickey has been banned from district property since a 2016 incident at a Whitmer High School basketball game where he aggressively confronted referees and the district’s athletic director, and hugged then-interim Superintendent Cherie Mourlam after she had made it clear she was uncomfortable.
Mr. Hickey had resigned a few months prior, shortly before school officials could consider a resolution to fire him because of 37 charges compiled by a law firm hired to investigate his behavior. Those charges included allegations that he failed to inform the district that he had left Addison Community Schools in Addison, Mich., in 1990 after accusations surfaced that he had inappropriate relationships with students.
A 2016 Michigan State Police report details conversations investigators had with a woman who said she had sex with Mr. Hickey when she was 14 and he was her coach and teacher at Addison High School more than two decades ago.
The Lenawee County Prosecutor’s Office declined to press charges because the woman requested that they not, and because it was reported outside the statute of limitations, a police report said.
Mr. Hunter said the board is working with its attorneys to decide what to do about the ban against Mr. Hickey now that he has won a seat on the board.
Sara Clark, director of legal services for the Ohio School Boards Association, said Washington Local’s case is a unique one. Any changes to the ban — either lifting or amending it — would take another board vote.
“I am not aware of a situation where this has come up before,” she said.
Ms. Clark added that in Ohio, board members must attend meetings in person if they want to be counted for quorum purposes or cast a vote, though there is no statute that requires board members to meet on district property.
“Hopefully, by December we have some idea of clarity about what the attorneys recommend, and then we’ll see where the board stands on those things,” Mr. Hunter said. “I want to listen to the community, I want to listen to my fellow board members.”
Mr. Hickey did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Hughes and sitting board member Lisa Canales both said they believe Mr. Hickey should be allowed on school property so that he can attend board meetings in person and vote on board matters. To not allow him a seat at the table would be a disservice to the Washington Local citizens who voted Mr. Hickey into office, they said.
“Patrick Hickey is now a board member. He is an elected official,” Ms. Canales said. “It is not my job to judge him. My job is to work with him, and this community said they want him back.”
Ms. Canales also said she wants to “make sure our teachers, our administration, everybody feels comfortable,” with how the board decides to handle the ban.
Mr. Hughes said he isn’t sold on lifting it completely.
“I think there should be some parameters, whatever parameters need to be in place to make sure everybody feels safe,” he said. “But we need to allow him on the property to do the job that he was elected to do.”
Mr. Hughes said he wants the district to be able to move forward under new board leadership. He wants to assess school buildings, improve technology, and determine if the board will need to put a levy on the ballot in the coming years.
He hopes the sitting board will address the ban levied against Mr. Hickey before the three new members are sworn in in January.
“I believe it’s their responsibility,” he said. “This current board is the one that implemented it. This board should be the one to amend it.”
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