Roughly 30 parents, teachers, community members and youngsters implored school officials to rescind a March 15 notice informing William Hartwick that he may not be principal at Pine Grove Elementary School next year.
The public comment period stretched on for more than 90 minutes Thursday with adults reminding the Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees that three seats are up for re-election in November and students describing how they would be affected if Hartwick didn’t return for the 2018-19 school year.
But when William Hartwick’s brother, prominent local businessman Kevin Hartwick, took the podium and spoke of a meeting he had with district administrators on March 14, parents began shouting for school board members to be recalled.
“I submit Mr. Hartwick did nothing wrong that rises to the level of punishment the district is trying to impose,” Kevin Hartwick said. “The district’s concerns about Mr. Hartwick represented after their quote-unquote investigation barely rose to a level that required a quiet talk or coaching about responding to a stressful situation. There is nothing in Mr. Hartwick’s employee file that we have in our possession that indicates any material performance issues (that would) require any corrective action. In a word, there’s nothing there.”
In a closed-session meeting on March 14, the board of trustees approved a resolution giving notice to William Hartwick, who has been a school principal in Del Norte County, that he may not keep his current position for the 2018-19 school year, according to district superintendent Jeff Harris.
On Thursday, Harris told parents that he, district staff and school board members were prohibited by law from divulging the reason Hartwick may not stay on as principal at Pine Grove.
The district is required to notify teachers and administrators by March 15 if they may not be employed in their current position the following year, Harris said. Teachers receive a final layoff notice by May 15, he said.
In the case of an administrator, it’s up to the school board to make a final decision and notify the employee of any potential reassignment by June 30, Harris said.
“I’ve heard a lot of rumor, innuendo and false information that’s out there,” Harris said. “A couple of the rumors that I’ve heard is that Mr. Hartwick has been fired. That is not true. We’ve also heard that another principal has already been assigned to his position. That is not true. We’ve been told that we have flown this position, again, that is not true. There are a lot of things that are circulating and, again, what I can tell you is those things are not true.”
Having been a principal in Del Norte County for 18 years, William Hartwick is the district’s most tenured principal, his attorney George Mavris wrote in an email to the Triplicate on Wednesday. Mavris noted William Hartwick has had an exemplary record and has been well received by students, parents and co-workers.
“One would imagine that Mr. Hartwick must have committed some egregious act of misconduct for the board to justify its action against him,” Mavris wrote. “However, no such conduct has occurred nor has the school board provided any rational basis for its actions. Rather, the adverse action against Mr. Hartwick appears to be based upon some personal animus against Mr. Hartwick.”
Mavris alleges the school board violated its own policies regarding its complaint process involving district employees. William Hartwick had the right to have his charges heard in an open school board meeting, Mavris said, and the board of trustees were legally required to notify William Hartwick of this right in writing at least 24 hours before the March 14 closed session meeting.
“Needless to say, Mr. Hartwick received no such notice and the board took action against him in closed session in violation of Mr. Hartwick’s rights,” Mavris wrote, citing Section 11 of Del Norte County Unified School District Board Policy 1312.1, which governs complaints concerning district employees. “Why would the Board not want to give Mr. Hartwick an opportunity to have his case heard in open session?”
Mavris said four previous superintendents have reviewed William Hartwick’s case and “have concluded that he is being treated improperly” by the school board.
“My own personal investigation, the lack of proper notice given to Mr. Hartwick, coupled with the absence of a rational basis for the board’s action against him has led me to conclude that he has been wrongfully demoted by the board,” Mavris wrote.
Mavris stated he has prepared a legal action to be filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing on William Hartwick’s behalf. Mavris said Wednesday he was waiting on the outcome of the Thursday’s school board meeting before submitting the legal action to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
On Thursday, Kevin Hartwick said when he met with district administrators on March 14, he told them that his brother has Tourette’s syndrome and being placed on administrative leave for an unexplained reason caused those symptoms to be exacerbated.
“They responded if Mr. Hartwick needs a 504, he should ask,” Kevin Hartwick said, referring to Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act, which helps parents of students with physical or mental impairments work with educators to create customized educational plans and ensures students are treated fairly at school. “Moments later, they attempted to joke that if Mr. Hartwick gets a companion dog for his disability, they want one too. Finally, the superintendent stated (if) other executives get a companion dog then he wants a companion pony and wouldn’t he be quite a sight coming through the district halls with a pony.
“That was uncalled for, it is starkly unprofessional, insulting to my brother and everyone should be punished for their poor communication,” Kevin Hartwick said.
Following Kevin Hartwick’s comment, nearly all parents and staff described William Hartwick as easy to communicate with and someone who goes above and beyond for his students.
William Hartwick’s students expressed sadness at the prospect of losing their principal, saying that he is a friend to them.
Aidyn Thomas, Pine Grove Elementary School’s student body president, said William Hartwick had greeted him every morning and expressed excitement at meeting Aidyn’s younger brother, Silas.
“I think it’s sad that how involved he is in my family and when my brother finally gets to come (to Pine Grove) Mr. Hartwick might not be his principal,” Aidyn said. “Mr. Hartwick is a joyful person and our school is like one big family. You want to take that away from our school? Please, from the bottom of my heart, my family’s heart and the rest of the Pine Grove family, please make the right decision and do not let him go.”
Following the public comment period, school board member Frank Magarino spoke briefly. Magarino said he has known William Hartwick for about 25 years as a brother-in-law and as a friend. It’s not surprising to see the amount of respect and support for William Hartwick, Magarino said.
Magarino also noted the rumors that Harris spoke of earlier in the meeting regarding William Hartwick’s position.
“A lot of things probably got blown out of proportion,” he said. “Let us do our job and I’m sure things will be fine.”
When board president Jamie Forkner attempted to close the public comment period and move on to the rest of the agenda, several parents asked when Forkner and her colleagues would make a final decision regarding William Hartwick’s future at Pine Grove.
They demanded Forkner put the issue on the agenda for the April 26 meeting, stating the situation has been stressful for parents, staff and students.
“I don’t know that we will have what is required to get it onto the next agenda,” Forkner said. “That’s why I cannot give you an answer to night if it will be on the April 26 meeting.”
Forkner thanked those who spoke for showing the school board how much they supported William Hartwick. She said the “specific examples” will help their future decision making.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .