Tensions rise at community meeting on Shaker Heights High School personnel changes

School personnel moves, other matters discussed

SH1.jpgShaker Heights City School District Superintendent Stephen M. Wilkins speaks at Thursday night’s community meeting at Shaker Heights High School. 

SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — Students and parents made their feelings clear during Thursday night’s often-tense community meeting about the recent personnel upheaval at Shaker Heights High School.

About 800 people, mostly students and parents, packed the school’s auditorium to ask Superintendent Stephen M. Wilkins and Acting Principal David Glasner about school personnel matters, including the placing of Principal Jonathan Kuehnle on administrative leave last week.

Students and parents are also seeking answers about the dismissal of the head football coach and an assistant, the resignation of the cheerleading coach and assistant, and the suspension of a teacher.

“We want answers,” the crowd chanted at one point.

Later in the meeting, many also voiced concerns that African-American students are not getting sufficient opportunity and preparation to adequately pursue their academic futures.

Many in attendance complained that answers to their questions at the meeting revealed little, and they loudly interrupted Wilkins and Glasner — sometimes with jeers — throughout the meeting.

Wilkins chose not to comment beyond what he said during the meeting, though both he and Glasner talked informally with students and parents for about an hour afterward.

Soon after the meeting began, Wilkins told the crowd that he was limited in what he could say by “legal and ethical considerations that restrict discussion of personnel issues.” He also said Kuehnle’s job status is under review.

Scott Stephens, the school district’s executive director of communications, emphasized to the crowd that there are no law enforcement or student safety matters concerning the affected school personnel. In some cases, Stephens said, it was a matter of “tone” used by personnel that led to their problems.

“We’ve got several people in public and key positions who have faced disciplinary actions from the district,” Stephens said after the meeting. “Our goal was to sit down and spend a little time with folks and try the best we could to answer their questions.

“We’re very limited in what we can say. People have a lot of questions, a lot of concerns — and in some things, even anger — and it’s very difficult for us to provide answers, because they are personnel issues. We have to respect the privacy of the people involved,” Stephens said.

The first boisterous reaction occurred when Stephens told the crowd that their questions for Wilkins and Glasner would not be asked by voice, but instead written on index cards. Several people asked, or even shouted, questions anyway.

Two students separately walked onto the stage and secured the microphone used by Wilkins and Glasner. One handed the microphone and a paper to Glasner, telling him “the nice lady in the back — she’d like you to answer her question. I’d like you to read it, so that way, I’d know for sure.”

One man was asked to leave the auditorium after he interrupted multiple times to make statements and demand answers. He left without incident.

A female African-American student said after the meeting that African-Americans are not being given sufficient information regarding opportunities and preparation as they look ahead to their college years, and that there is too much separation between black and white students.

“All of the classes I have are basically with (other African-American students),” she said. “I have one class with white kids.”

Said another female student:

“I didn’t know about the racial issues, and teachers getting after students, and students acting out and disrupting classes. I’m African-American, and I’ve never had these issues happen to me.

“So to see that girl up there on stage (during the meeting), almost crying, and all these people with all this tension — I really wish I knew about this sooner, so if I could have helped in any kind of way.”

An African-American father said he and his wife appreciate the efforts of Shaker Heights school administrators.

“These things take time,” he said. “It took a long time, generations, for things to move forward — insofar as they have, as much as they have. It’s going to take time for it to be fixed — the equities and inequities around educating black kids.

“We’ve had two children come through this school system, and we have one in it. We are grateful for Shaker schools, we really are. We’ve tried to be involved parents — we have been involved parents — for a long, long time,” he said.

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