Though she didn’t go into detail about why William Hartwick may not be principal at Pine Grove Elementary School next year, school board President Jamie Forkner asked the public to think twice before believing rumors circulating around the community or on social media.
“I urge you to consider that what is being talked about in the community or on social media is not the whole story or in some cases even the correct story,” Forkner said in a statement before opening Thursday’s meeting of the Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees to public comment. “Any suggestions that the school board or staff are acting improperly is simply not true. We come to work every day with one thing in mind and one thing only and that is what is best for your child’s education and the running of the district.”
Forkner made her statement two weeks after dozens defended the principal, asking the school board to reconsider its March 14 decision to give notice to Hartwick that he may not keep his current position for the 2018-19 school year. The school board is still reviewing Hartwick’s case, Forkner said, and will be discussing the issue with him next month.
Forkner said she and her colleagues could not discuss the issue in public in order to protect Hartwick’s privacy.
On Thursday, two people spoke out in defense of Hartwick. Debbie Corning, a grandmother with four at Pine Grove Elementary School again urged the board to reconsider its March 15 notice. Corning also addressed allegations made at the previous board meeting by Hartwick’s brother, prominent businessman Kevin Hartwick, that district administration spoke disrespectfully of William Hartwick’s Tourette’s syndrome at a March 14 meeting.
“The comments that were made about Mr. Hartwick, especially from Mr. Harris about his disability and the comments he made about a companion dog and maybe he should need a companion horse and maybe Mr. Hartwick needs a 504, to me, this is disrespectful,” Corning said. “This is a form of bullying and I would like to know where the board stands on these comments and if there’s any disciplinary action being taken against Mr. Harris or anyone else that spoke these terms of disrespect and bullying.”
Corning asked if there would be a way the public could address the issue and said if the comments Harris allegedly made about William Hartwick’s disability were true, she’d like to ask for Harris’s resignation.
According to Harris, “a 504” refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and is in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Section 504 prohibits agencies receiving federal financial assistance from excluding, denying the benefits of or discriminating against a “qualified individual with a disability,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s “A Guide to Disability Rights.”
Harris said the school district is required by law to provide assistance whenever an employee discloses a disability.
The alleged disparaging remarks made following the March 14 meeting with Kevin Hartwick was a comment Steve Godla, assistant superintendent of instruction and educational services, made in an attempt to “lighten the mood,” Harris said.
Harris said Godla’s remark was inappropriate and he has since apologized to William Hartwick in person and in writing.
On Thursday, Kevin Hartwick challenged Forkner’s assertion that the school board can’t discuss the issue involving his brother in public.
“When it comes to issues such as discriminatory comments, you don’t have to refer to an employee, you can say you don’t support that,” Kevin Hartwick said. “That can be a statement. It has nothing to do with personnel and we can talk about it tonight.”
At the April 12 meeting, Kevin Hartwick brought up a phone call from District 4 trustee Roger Daley to William Hartwick’s former wife, Ana Potter. During the phone call, according to Kevin Hartwick, Daley, who coached Potter’s son in soccer about eight years ago, asked her if she remembered having a black eye at the time.
According to Kevin Hartwick, Daley told Potter that he thought she and William Hartwick had a stressful divorce and wanted to know if William Hartwick caused the bruises eight years ago. According to Kevin Hartwick, Potter told Daley the bruise was caused as a bungee cord snapped back at her and hit her in the eye.
On Thursday, Kevin Hartwick said Daley visited Pine Grove School unannounced on April 16 and met with an employee in private “on a subject matter that is confidential.” According to Kevin Hartwick, Daley told the employee that Kevin Hartwick had “blown the issue out of proportion” and Daley was trying to protect his integrity.
“It makes no sense and it’s absolutely true,” Kevin Hartwick said. “You say district personnel make mistakes and you’re making decisions on their future and this is the kind of conduct... and if we’d like to have a public debate on this issue, I’d be happy to. We can talk about how to be safe, respectful and responsible because it’s not being done now.”
When asked for a response to Kevin Hartwick’s statement, Daley said Friday that he had no comment.
William Hartwick has been a principal in Del Norte County for 18 years, according to his attorney George Mavris.
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, according to Harris. Teachers receive a final layoff notice May 15. 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, according to Harris.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .