Principal Kasey Teske watches as students compete in a dodgeball tournament Tuesday at Canyon Ridge High School in Twin Falls. Teske was named ‘Principal of the Year’ by the Idaho Association of Secondary School Principals.
FILER — Three Filer School District employees are under police investigation over allegations of misconduct.
The school district became aware of a situation Monday evening, school officials said in a statement Friday afternoon. The employees were placed on leave.
The district and police have not released the names of the employees and declined to discuss the nature of the allegations. But it appears one of the three employees is Superintendent John Graham.
The note from the school was signed by Middle School Principal Shane Hild, who is now the district’s acting superintendent.
“The safety and well-being of our students is our top priority and we take these allegations seriously,” the district said in the statement.
The case has been turned over to the Filer Police Department, Sgt. John Darnell confirmed Friday. He declined to comment on the specific nature of the allegations.
No one answered the phone Friday at the school district office or Filer Middle School. School isn’t in session until Tuesday. And school board members did not return multiple phone calls.
Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs said his office was unaware of a police investigation.
As soon as Filer school officials became aware of the allegations, local law enforcement was contacted and the district opened an independent investigation, according to the statement.
“Everyone at the District is working closely with law enforcement and will do everything required to assist them with their investigation,” it said.
The district has “a responsibility not to rush to judgment and risk inadvertently causing harm to any member of our school community,” according to the statement. “We would ask for patience and understanding as the matter is investigated.
“At this point in the investigation, these are the only details we can provide. We will update you when the investigation is complete.”
TWIN FALLS — The Twin Falls School District hid its decision to give one of its top administrators a $94,108.26 payout this summer as part of a highly unusual separation agreement.
The district wrote a check June 27 to director of support services Clara Allred, payroll documents show. She announced her retirement a week later, and it was accepted by the school board during a meeting on the Fourth of July.
The reason for the massive payout and the cause of Allred’s departure remains unclear, even after the Times-News sued the district to obtain a copy of the separation agreement. It’s also still unclear why the district agreed to a clause that bars it from talking about the deal — an arrangement so unusual, district officials said they can’t remember ever signing something similar.
“I’m sorry that it is of the confidential nature it is and we can’t comment,” Superintendent Wiley Dobbs said in one of two meetings Monday with the newspaper. After consulting with district attorneys, Dobbs later added that deals like this sometimes come about after doing a “cost-benefit analysis.”
An employment attorney not connected to the deal said districts will sometimes pay an employee to go away rather than battle the person in court. But it’s not clear if that’s what happened in Allred’s case. Her attorney, Shelly Cozakos, wouldn’t answer questions for this story, instead issuing a statement that read:
“Clara Allred served the special needs children in the Twin Falls School District for 15 years, both as a teacher and the Director of the Special Needs program. She even continued serving the kids while undergoing treatment for breast cancer, with the full support of the District. Clara made the difficult decision to retire from the District and has no ill will for the District of any of its employees, and wishes them well. She desires to move on and help special needs children in a different capacity.”
Allred oversaw many of the district’s education programs, including special education, gifted and talented education, paraprofessionals, school counseling, and services for students such as mental health services, psychology, audiology, speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. She made $101,464 under her contract for the 2015-16 schoolyear.
The day after its July 4 meeting, the district announced Allred submitted a letter of retirement effective June 30, the day before the start of a new fiscal year. School boards rarely meet on federal holidays. And typically, trustees approve employee retirements in batches, not one at a time as it did for Allred.
The school district issued a brief statement July 5 about Allred’s departure: “The board wishes to thank Allred for her dedicated years of service to the District.”
Dobbs told the Times-News last week the board met on the holiday not to secretly approve the agreement but because he was leaving on vacation and the timing was also best for school trustees. But “if I could do it over, I would,” he said about the meeting date.
Citing the confidentiality clause in the agreement, the superintendent declined to answer specific questions about the deal. But Allred’s departure, he said, isn’t connected to any malfeasance or underlying problems in the district. And he noted: “She did retire.”
As part of the payout, Allred received $81,500 from the school district, plus $12,228.26 — the cash value of 242 accumulated hours of vacation leave. She will also receive post-employment group health insurance coverage.
The district also agreed not to take any civil action directly against Allred and will “forgo any further process relating to concerns that Allred has not fully or properly performed her duties with the District.”
If the district faces any “audit activities” by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Idaho Department of Education or other government agency related to the district or Allred’s handling of special population students, she agreed to make herself available to inquiries. Officials from those agencies said they can’t confirm or deny whether an investigation has been opened.
Dobbs told the Times-News there haven’t been recent or upcoming audits related to special population students. And he said there aren’t any allegations regarding Allred’s conduct toward students.
The separation agreement states the school district would release an announcement about Allred’s retirement and open the search for a new director. The language in the announcement would reflect she “chose to retire for personal reasons and through the use of the Joint Statement,” according to the agreement, and no further comments would be issued to reporters.
Allred is allowed to seek letters of recommendation from coworkers. She’s prohibited from disparaging the district or employees, but “will respond to any subpoena or investigation by any agency in a truthful manner.”
The agreement states the district and school board won’t “state or in any manner imply that there was any form of a ‘pay-off’ in order to obtain Allred’s retirement.”
After Allred’s departure, the Times-News immediately sought to obtain a copy of the separation agreement under Idaho’s open records laws. The district turned over a heavily redacted copy of the document, and the newspaper sued to obtain a complete copy. In court, district lawyers said the district was reluctant to turn over an unredacted copy of the agreement because it feared it would be sued by Allred for disclosing the arrangement.
In Twin Falls County Fifth District Court, Judge Randy Stoker ruled Sept. 14 the district had to turn over an unredacted agreement, with the exception of one paragraph and one attachment he said were related to Allred’s job performance. The portions still available to the newspaper did not specify why Allred was “retiring” or why the district was paying such a hefty sum to a retiring employee.
Even after the suit, district spokeswoman Eva Craner said the district is bound by legal constraints in what it can say about the case. In the separation agreement with Allred, the district agreed not to speak about the arrangement, and it is still under a legal obligation not to discuss the case.
Since Allred left the job, the school district has made changes in the support services department. In addition to hiring new director Mike Gemar, it bid out services for special population students.
Services were previously contracted with a company called SMB Center, a company Allred contracted early in her tenure to provide special services to disabled and other special students in the district.
“Through that process, other companies were selected for this year,” Dobbs said.
Just before cutting ties with the company, in July school trustees approved an approximately $30,000 contract extension with SMB Center from Aug. 1-11.
It set the company’s pay at $32 per hour for individual students and $8 per hour for group services. A representative from the company signed the agreement June 28, the day after the school district wrote the payout check to Allred.
During a September meeting, trustees approved contracts with a handful of private service providers for this school year. SMB Center wasn’t included.
Dobbs said the school district has a positive relationship with the company. “Again,” he said, “we’ve had audits and those have come up clean.”
The district paid nearly $2.1 million to SMB Center in 2015, tax documents show. SMB Center doesn’t have a website or listed business phone number.
On Saturday, the district sought to preempt concern about this report by issuing a statement to other media and district staff about the Allred case.
“We want to make you aware of an article the Times-News plans to publish in their Sunday edition this weekend,” the statement read. “This article focuses on a personnel matter within the Twin Falls School District. As you may know, personnel matters are confidential in nature so that staff members have a reasonable right to privacy within their work environment. As always, we strive for transparency with our stakeholders and community. However, the TFSD is limited by legal constraints regarding personnel decisions.”
The district continued: “Districts often work with personnel and legal counsel to enter into various types of agreements after undergoing a cost-benefit analysis that takes into account all factors and possible outcomes of a specific circumstance including the consideration of student needs and interests.”
In the statement, the district confirmed that it had bid out services previously controlled by Allred and apologized for the “vagueness surrounding this matter.”
Szanto worked at CSI for 17 years, until she was placed on paid leave in January 2014. Her contract ended that June. She was vice president of student services, planning and grant development.
Through the settlement agreement, CSI officials are denying any liability or wrongdoing, according to the college’s statement. And Szanto agreed to drop the lawsuit.
Online court documents for the settlement weren’t available Tuesday.
In the suit, Szanto described herself as a “foreign-born woman” and high-level administrator at CSI. She alleged discrimination based on her gender and national status.
She and her family immigrated to the U.S. from Romania as political refugees in 1990 and were resettled through CSI’s Refugee Center.
Szanto said Tuesday there was a mediation Oct. 12 and she signed a settlement agreement last week.
She said she’ll receive monthly payments of $3,330 for 15 years, from January 2022 until 2037. She’ll also receive $80,000 in upfront cash and $130,000 for her attorneys.
Szanto said she dedicated her professional life to CSI. “I put my heart and soul into my job. I tireless advocated for innovation,” as well as transparency.
Szanto said she decided to fight her termination, which she called “unjust.”
She said she learned the value of courage while growing up under communism in eastern Europe and watching her parents stand up for themselves.
Now, Szanto is in her second year of law school through a hybrid in-person and online program.
She said she wants to become a civil rights and employment law attorney “to help those who face a hostile workplace environment,” she said. “I’m looking forward to putting this (lawsuit) behind me.”
In February 2014, Szanto filed a complaint with the Idaho Commission on Human Rights and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Szanto didn’t create conflict, the complaint states, but she was assertive and goal-driven. “She also did not defer to her male colleagues. She did not conform to the female stereotype as a quiet, meek, passive and subservient employee.”
She was paid $96,000 per year. Szanto applied for a promotion to executive vice president in 2008, according to the complaint.
Fox was given the job instead. Attorneys for Szanto allege she was more qualified for the job but wasn’t interviewed.
TWIN FALLS — A 12-year-old girl raised more than $6,000 to bring presentations from an anti-pornography speaker to Twin Falls middle and high schools this week.
The girl’s mother, Amanda Jones, came up with the idea and asked her daughter Alexa — a seventh-grader at Vera C. O’Leary Middle School — if she’d be interested in pursuing the project.
The pre-teen met with school officials to get permission to bring “Fight the New Drug” assemblies to Twin Falls. Then, she raised $6,600 through a yard sale in September to cover the costs.
“Kids all have cellphones and have the ability to get online,” Jones said. “They can see very violent and scary stuff that’s just available to anyone. It has warped teenagers’ sense of reality and the ability to have real relationships.”
Jones told the Times-News she has talked with her children from a young age about the dangers of explicit online content.
“We’ve always been open with our kids about it,” she said. “But I knew that a lot of parents don’t have that discussion with their kids.”
So starting in September, Alexa read information about Fight the New Drug and made a PowerPoint presentation.
“I made her do it all,” Jones said. “It’s good for her to see how she could make a difference in the world.”
But, she said, Alexa was too nervous to talk with the Times-News about the project.
Fight the New Drug, a nonprofit organization, travels across North America to talk about the science behind pornography, how it can become addictive and how it harms the brain, relationships and society as a whole.
Jones heard about Fight the New Drug when she saw her sister-in-law liked a post about it on Instagram.
“I thought it was really interesting,” she said. “I had never heard of anything like it.”
Alexa called the Twin Falls School District office and set up an appointment with Superintendent Wiley Dobbs and secondary programs director L.T. Erickson to show them the presentation.
The 12-year-old then worked with Erickson to get permission from each school principal to bring the assembly to students.
About 200 parents attended a meeting Monday night to learn more about the optional assemblies this week. Parents had to sign a form to opt in their child to attend a presentation at their school.
At Canyon Ridge High School, there were a few assemblies Wednesday morning.
Fight the New Drug program director Craig Bakker opened the first hour-long assembly by saying: “Do you guys know what we’re talking about today? Porn.” And he joked his nickname is “the porn guy.”
At the end of the session, students had the option of signing a “fighter pledge” against pornography. The tone of the assembly was conversational and laid-back but touched on serious topics like human trafficking.
Bakker claimed that 88 percent of pornography depicts violence against women, an often challenged statistic cited in the 2010 book, “Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality.”
And, Bakker encouraged students to ask themselves a question: “Does this harm someone else?”
He also talked with teenagers about the importance of protecting their brain, which he described as the “powerhouse of the body.”
He showed video clips of people doing stunts and falling on their heads. Students cringed as they watched.
Bakker said like a drug addiction, a pornography addiction can hijack part of the brain with a surge of chemicals.
He played a video about a 29-year-old man — a husband and father of two — who struggled with pornography addiction and took actions such as running 30 marathons in 30 days and riding his bicycle coast-to-coast to raise awareness.
Bakker told students he wants them to recognize the man isn’t a bad person.
“Addictions, struggles and habits don’t define who we are,” he said. “We are better than that.” Don’t judge yourself or others, he added.
Bakker warned students that pornography and addiction to it can promote a notion that people are objects created for fantasy and make people miss out on what matters in relationships.
BUHL — The Buhl Police Department is investigating allegations involving Buhl Middle School, and one mother says it’s about a group of boys assaulting classmates. Her son turned suicidal after the alleged attack.
Detective Kevin Hanners confirmed Friday an investigation began when police received a report last week. But he declined to say if it involves students or school employees because police are still investigating.
The mother of a Buhl Middle School student, however, told the Times-News a group of five middle school boys were tackling and assaulting classmates. She alleges the boys put sticks and sometimes fingers up their victims’ rectums through their pants.
She and other parents have consulted a lawyer.
The parents say the heard from police there may be as many as 20 middle school victims. She said perpetrators have been suspended until Jan. 9, pending the outcome of the police investigation.
“My son was so humiliated that he told his friends he wanted to kill himself,” said the woman, whose son was attacked Nov. 30.
The Times-News is withholding the woman’s name to protect her son’s identity.
Buhl School District superintendent Ron Anthony wasn’t available to comment Friday afternoon by phone or email. Buhl Middle School principal Suzanne Wilkin declined to comment, saying Anthony is the designated media spokesman for the district.
The mother said parents reported the attacks to the Buhl Police Department on Dec. 6. She said she was told by police that school officials are mandatory reporters — meaning, by law, they must report any incidents of sexual assault to police — but hadn’t come forward with information.
The mother said she and three other parents met with an attorney Wednesday. And they plan to meet with the school board Monday during a private executive session.
The attacks happened for a couple of weeks, the mother said, but increased in severity.
She said the victims didn’t talk to their parents about what happened. “None of the boys wanted to say anything to anybody. If (the perpetrators) hadn’t been caught, we probably still wouldn’t know.”
The mother said the first time boys were caught assaulting a classmate was during lunchtime Dec. 1.
Three boys were involved, she said, adding two of them held down the victim. Two school employees saw what was happening and pulled the boys apart, she said.
The three boys who assaulted a classmate wrote a statement and the incident was reported to the school principal, the mother said.
The same day, another boy told his mother he’d been attacked and he didn’t want to go to Buhl Middle School anymore, she said. The parent went to the school and filed a complaint Dec. 2.
The parents of the alleged victims say the attacks also have a racial component, with the attackers hollering different chants depending on the race of the victims.
Other boys came forward in the following days, the mother said.
When the mother picked up her son and her son’s best friend from school Dec. 6, she saw one of the parents whose son was suspended.
“It prompted the conversation about why they were suspended,” she said.
Her son admitted to her that evening he had also been attacked.
“Our boys don’t understand what penetration is,” she said, but complained about being sore the next day.
School officials started interviewing middle school boys, the mother said, but said parents weren’t notified. But she received a call from the school counselor saying her son was so humiliated he told friends he wanted to kill himself, and he wouldn’t be released until she picked him up.
The police department started conducting interviews that evening, the mother said. She said she received a phone call asking to bring her son to the police station for an interview.
The mother said she only knew her son was attacked using fingers. But she said during the interview, her son responded admitted he’d also been attacked with a stick.
BUHL — The Buhl School District is “following all appropriate avenues” with respect to allegations involving Buhl Middle School, the superintendent said in a statement Monday.
Superintendent Ron Anthony wasn’t available to comment Friday afternoon when contacted by the Times-News about a police investigation at the school that parents say is linked to boys being harassed on the playground. One mother told the newspaper as many as 20 boys have been penetrated with sticks or fingers, and that teachers and administrators were aware but did not contact police.
In a statement Monday, Anthony wrote: “An investigation is being conducted at this time by the Buhl Police Department. The safety and welfare of the district’s students and employees will continue to be of paramount importance.”
Detective Kevin Hanners confirmed Friday an investigation began when police received a report earlier this month. He declined to say if it involves students or school employees.
KIMBERLY — The Kimberly School District has picked a site for a new elementary school.
It’s buying a 10-acre property at the corner of Polk Street West and Emerald Drive North, Superintendent Luke Schroeder confirmed Tuesday.
School trustees approved an appraisal and purchase agreement Dec. 14 with Ronald Lee Taylor and Phyllis Jo Taylor for $375,000.
The purchase price came in $5,000 lower than the appraised value, Schroeder said.
A new 50,000-square-foot elementary school — estimated to cost about $11 million — will open in fall 2018 to help alleviate overcrowding. The campus will be east of Ballards Way subdivision.
The next steps: The project will go out to bid in February and construction will start in March.
To pay for the new school, voters approved a $14 million bond in May. About $3 million of the money will pay for a cosmetic face-lift and upgrading safety features at the existing elementary school, slated for completion by January 2019.
Funds will also be used to purchase land for a future school site.
For Kimberly residents, tax rates are expected to remain steady. That’s because an existing bond for Kimberly High School will be paid off.
TWIN FALLS — The College of Southern Idaho has reported a significant phishing scam after an employee inadvertently released W-2 tax information.
An individual — who was impersonating a college employee — sent an email Thursday to a CSI employee requesting W-2 forms.
An employee released information later that day for all college employees for 2015 and 2016.
There’s no evidence of hacking into CSI’s computer system, college spokesman Doug Maughan said Tuesday. “Our IT department is confident that hasn’t occurred.”
“The only thing we’re dealing with here is a phishing scam,” he added, but called the incident “significant.”
The college learned Monday the email was fraudulent and started an investigation. College officials aren’t aware of any fraud or misuse of employee information.
A letter from CSI President Jeff Fox was slated to be mailed to college employees Tuesday.
“The College of Southern Idaho recently experienced a security incident involving the personal information of its current and former employees,” Fox wrote in a draft document.
“We are providing this notice as a precaution to inform those who are affected and to call your attention to steps you can take to help protect yourselves. We sincerely regret any concern this may cause you.”
CSI reported the incident to the Twin Falls Police Department and a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who deals with cybersecurity.
It’s also working through its insurance provider, Idaho Counties Risk Management Program, to offer employees free one-year identity protection services through a company called EPIC.
The W2 form is a tax document an employer prepares, showing how much is withheld from an employee’s pay for taxes.
The information handed over in the phishing scam included employee names, home addresses, Social Security numbers, pay information and how much tax money was withheld.
CSI is holding a town hall meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday for all CSI employees. It will be broadcast to the college’s off-campus centers.
College officials will share information, answer questions and help employees sign up for the identity theft protection service.
The college also plans to provide additional training for employees on “how to handle any requests for sensitive information and how to potentially recognize a phishing scheme,” Fox wrote in the letter.
CSI is also recommending employees file a Form 14039 — an identity theft affidavit — with the Internal Revenue Service.
That can help ensure an employee’s information isn’t used to file a fraudulent tax return.
“The College of Southern Idaho takes the privacy and protection of personal information very seriously, and deeply regrets that this incident occurred,” Fox wrote in the letter.
“We took steps to address this incident promptly after it was discovered, including working to investigate and remediate the situation.”
JEROME — Brandy Ramos’ 9-year-old daughter has spent the school year learning about adding decimals and the difference between cold-blooded and warm-blooded animals.
So earlier this month, Ramos was shocked when she picked up her daughter from school and the third-grader asked her to explain a sex act.
The same day, her 11-year-old son, who’s in sixth-grade, asked her about another sex act.
The children’s questions came after they were given a survey at school.
A group of parents — including Ramos — is upset about the 10-question Adverse Childhood Experience survey given Feb. 8. Some are considering legal action.
But administrators say the survey was useful and found about 70 percent of Heritage Academy students scored a three or higher — meaning they’ve experienced at least three stressful life situations, Heritage Academy superintendent Christine Ivie said.
Those situations could include sexual abuse, witnessing domestic violence or going without meals.
But for Ramos and other parents, the survey’s question on sex abuse went too far. Ramos pulled her children out of Heritage Academy and is homeschooling them.
If school employees want to ask her children if they’ve been touched inappropriately in their bathing suit area, that’s fine, she said, and they don’t need permission.
“The consent part is kind of a double-edged sword,” Ramos said. Parents who are abusing their children shouldn’t be tipped off or given the ability to coach kids into denying abuse.
But to ask about oral or anal sex — which one question did — crosses the line, Ramos said. “I think it’s kind of common sense those aren’t words we use with children.”
It’s the first time the survey — which the superintendent says was anonymous and optional for students to take — has been used at the Jerome public charter school.
The survey is used in a lot of schools and youth organizations, Ivie said.
It helps identify stressful life experiences students may be dealing with that could affect their academic performance and how they learn.
“For a school-wide purpose, we used it to get an idea of just the level of overall adverse life events our students are dealing with,” Ivie said.
A kid dealing with a traumatic event will be less likely to absorb classroom lessons, she said.
Ivie received a copy of the survey at a training she attended with professionals that included school administrators and counselors.
“It seems like it’s pretty widely used,” she said.
But in an email to parents Feb. 9, Ivie wrote the school won’t use the survey again.
Idaho Department of Education spokesman Jeff Church wrote in an email to the Times-News he doesn’t have detailed knowledge of the survey or how often it’s used in schools.
Heritage Academy’s school board met Tuesday night “to wrap everything up” regarding the survey and to talk about follow-up steps, Ivie said.
In the future, she said, she and the board will get parent input on how to create a supportive school environment and how to deal with controversial material.
A group of parents attended a school board meeting last week, but the survey wasn’t an item on the agenda, Ramos said. Parents were allowed to speak, but board members didn’t respond.
She’d like to see the school board fulfill its role in answering to stakeholders. “At this point,” Ramos said “they’ve been completely silent.”
In a Feb. 12 email to parents, acting school administrator Robert Hunter wrote the school board is investigating and “are not at liberty to discuss personnel matters with the public.”
He also wrote that a parent group was originally planning to protest the survey at the school but decided not to. Hunter asked students to enter through the playground doors the following day as a safety precaution. He also requested a police presence temporarily either on campus or nearby and encouraged parents to report any threats to the Jerome Police Department.
The original Adverse Childhood Experiences Study — organized by Kaiser Permanente and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — was given in the mid-1990s to more than 17,000 southern California adults.
It’s “one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being,” the CDC’s website says.
The family health history questionnaire, for example, has more than 60 multi-part questions.
On the version of the survey given to Heritage Academy students, there’s only one question about whether students have experienced sexual abuse, Ivie said.
For first and second-graders, teachers asked students all the questions out loud, she said. Teachers used language such as “Has anyone touched you in the swimsuit area and made you feel uncomfortable?”
And the survey was modified for first through fourth-graders with age-appropriate language, Ivie said.
Other questions included whether a child has a family member who’s been in prison, whether their parents are divorced and if they’ve ever been hit or pushed.
“It’s really a variety of things,” Ivie said. “Those items were based on the 10 most common things reported by children that were going on in their lives that were stressful and causing problems.”
Ivie wrote in an email to parents that the school’s goal is to ensure there is proper training and support for teachers to provide a safe environment for student.
She’s received both positive and negative feedback about the survey.
People who are upset may not have all of the information, she said, and may have seen misinformation circulating on Facebook.
If parents have questions, Ivie said, they should make an appointment with her.
The goal isn’t to pry into peoples’ personal lives, Ivie said. “We just want to make sure we create a safe, supportive environment where (children) can be here and learn here and grow.”
Ivie said she heard from 16 people — students and parents — after the survey who’ve come forward to ask for help with something the survey addressed.
In an email to parents, Ivie wrote she emphasized with students the survey was anonymous, they weren’t required to complete it and that it “asked some very personal questions.”
Davis Conklin, who has nephews and nieces attending Heritage Academy, has also been a nanny for a couple of kids at the school.
She said she’s speaking on behalf of a group of about 20 parents, some of whom are too worried about the repercussions if they talk about the survey publicly.
But some of those parents are looking into potential legal action, she said.
The day after the survey was given, students who were absent the previous day were pulled from recess and class to take the survey, Conklin said, meaning it was no longer anonymous.
She said some parents are also worried about potential Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act violations — particularly, involving a survey question about whether students live with someone who has a mental illness.
Plus, about 40 percent of students at Heritage Academy have special needs, Conklin said, and took the survey.
Ramos said she was “extremely concerned” after her children told her about the survey. She went to the school office to gather information, but Ivie wasn’t there.
She contacted two school board members and heard back from one of them, who said the school board doesn’t deal with individual complaints and she needed to talk with Ivie.
Ramos said she has received calls from Ivie. But “I have no interest in talking with her,” she said. “The damage is done.”
She posted a copy of the survey on her Facebook page. She said she heard from a school board member asking her to take the post down, but she didn’t.
Ivie said she plans to meet with a school board member and a handful of parents to discuss the overall school results. They’ll also talk about what the procedure should be for deciding which surveys to use in the future.
Kathy Kent said she wonders what Ivie’s concern was that prompted the survey and why it wasn’t age-appropriate. She also wonders if the school board approved the survey before it was distributed.
“It’s really strange and out of the ordinary for a school,” she said.
Kent said her 8-year-old grandson — who goes to Heritage Academy — has Asperger’s syndrome. She said he’s “pure at heart. To ask him those questions, it’s just not right.”
She also wonders if other area schools are using the same quiz with the same wording.
In the Twin Falls School District, there’s a detailed policy about research studies.
It states a questionnaire or survey about a student or parent’s “personal beliefs, practices in sex, family life, morality, and religion” can’t be distributed without school district approval and written parental permission. Parents can also opt students out from taking a survey.
School district spokeswoman Eva Craner said the district has no plans to give the ACE survey to students.
DIETRICH — The superintendent at the center of the Dietrich High School locker room assault case says he’ll resign at the end of this contract year.
Superintendent Ben Hardcastle made the announcement Thursday.
“I have an opportunity that is in the best interest of my family, and the Dietrich School Board has graciously accepted my resignation effective at the end of this contract year,” he wrote in a statement to the Times-News.
Hardcastle, who wasn’t immediately available to comment, and the district have come under fire for their handling of an October 2015 attack in a Dietrich football locker room that targeted a black, mentally disabled football player. Both an attorney general's investigation and Hardcastle's own investigating showed a culture of bullying and possible racism that was widespread on the football team.
The incident sparked national outrage from people who saw the incident as an injustice for the victim, especially after 19-year-old John R.K Howard, the only person charged criminally as an adult in the case, was sentenced to probation on Feb. 24. Witnesses said Howard kicked a coat hanger into the victim's buttocks.
Hardcastle’s resignation statement didn’t mention the incident.
“I am extremely grateful to the community of Dietrich for the great trust that you have shown me in allowing me to serve the school district," he wrote in the statement.
The Associated Press reported last week that Hardcastle began his own investigation of the locker room incident before notifying the sheriff’s office. On Tuesday, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden told the Times-News the superintendent's investigation didn't influence the criminal probe.
Hardcastle is one of several district employees named as defendants in an ongoing civil suit brought by the disabled teen, who is seeking $10 million in damages.
Hardcastle started as Dietrich superintendent in July 2015.
He started his career as an eighth-grade U.S. history teacher at an inter-city school in Houston, Texas. He also coached football, track and soccer and was voted “Teacher of the Year” at Hoffman Middle School during the 2009-10 school year.
Hardcastle moved to Gooding and taught sixth-grade geography for one year. He worked for three years as Gooding Middle School principal and was then Gooding High’s principal.
In November 2014, Hardcastle, who was then Gooding High’s principal, was placed on leave for two days after challenging then-Superintendent Mary Larson over a plagiarism issue with the employee handbook.
TWIN FALLS — An Xavier Charter School teacher has resigned after being investigated for allegedly taping students’ mouths shut in a second-grade classroom.
School administrator Gary Moon made the announcement Thursday in a statement. He first heard about the allegation after school Feb. 16.
“The administration immediately began an investigation into the allegations,” he wrote in the statement. “The teacher in question has since resigned from the school and the board of directors has accepted that individual’s resignation.”
He didn’t disclose the teacher’s name.
Xavier’s website lists two second-grade teachers. Stacey McFarland is employed with Xavier Charter School, Moon confirmed.
Renette Reyes was listed as the other second-grade teacher Thursday morning. But by mid-day, her name was pulled from the website and replaced with a different name.
A substitute teacher — who has a bachelor’s degree in education — had been filling in since the allegations surfaced.
A new teacher, who has a current Idaho teaching certificate, will take over the affected class Friday until the end of this school year.
TWIN FALLS — Brady Dickinson will be the new Twin Falls School District superintendent.
School trustees made the announcement during an April 3 morning meeting. Dickinson will start on the job July 1.
Dickinson, who’s currently director of operations and educational technology for the school district, has worked for the district for more than 22 years.
He started his career as a social studies teacher in 1995 at Robert Stuart Middle School. He was Canyon Ridge High School’s first principal and helped to open three new schools funded by a nearly $74 million bond voters passed in 2014.
“I’m honored to be entrusted in this position,” Dickinson said during the meeting.
Dickinson said the intense application and interview process truly challenged him to demonstrate “that I was not just the next man up,” he said, and he had many sleepless nights.
He’ll replace current superintendent Wiley Dobbs, a 1976 Twin Falls High School alumnus, who has led his hometown public schools since 2003. He announced in the fall he plans to retire Sept. 1, 2017.
Dickinson said he has big shoes to fill, and it will be a real challenge, but he’s committed to the position. Dobbs will spend a few months helping with the transition before he retires.
School board chairman Bernie Jansen told Dickinson the board has a responsibility to help him succeed.
The other two superintendent finalists were Jim Shank, superintendent at the Coupeville School District in Coupeville, Wash., and Monte Woolstenhulme, superintendent at Teton School District in Driggs.
The school district conducted a nationwide search for a new superintendent. And finalists participated in a community meet-and-greet event Friday.
School trustees received valuable feedback, Jansen said, and met in executive session Friday to negotiate an offer.
During Monday’s meeting before the announcement was made, Jansen thanked his fellow trustees for their hard work. “This has been something new and different for all of us,” he said.
There was lots of discussion, angst and sleepless nights, Jansen said, adding there were three qualified applicants to choose from.
Trustee Mary Barron said the board didn’t take the process or decision lightly. “We felt the full weight of our decision.”
Even though the district is changing its top leadership, she said, “nothing will change in the classroom.”
Parent Anna Scholes, an active school volunteer, told the Times-News she has worked with Dickinson frequently over the years through booster clubs, committees and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Magic Valley’s board.
“I’m really happy they chose him because I feel like he’s pretty giving of his time in the community, as well as at the schools,” she said.
Scholes, who has one child in high school and another who attends Northeastern University in Boston, said Dobbs is “very available.”
Even if a superintendent candidate had lots of education leadership experience, “to replace (Dobbs) with someone who didn’t have any connections in community would be really tough,” she said. “It takes time to form those relationships and Brady already has those.”
Scholes said she thinks school district officials are looking to continue along the same path paved by Dobbs and aren’t looking for any major shakeups.
Dickinson, she said, is “always very accessible and easy to work with.”
TWIN FALLS — Kasey Teske’s career has revolved around helping all of his students. Over the past 20 years he’s worked at schools with large groups of migrant, refugee and low-income students. He helps them clarify their goals and take steps toward achieving them.
The Canyon Ridge High School principal’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
Teske, who graduated from Twin Falls High School in 1990, has been named Principal of the Year by the Idaho Association of Secondary School Principals.
It’s one of the highest statewide honors a middle or high school principal can receive.
He’ll be recognized Aug. 3 during an Idaho Association of School Administrators conference in Boise and at an institute for school principals Sept. 25 in Washington, D.C.
Teske, who has been Canyon Ridge’s principal for four years, said Tuesday he was surprised and honored to find out he was nominated. He went through an interview with an award selection committee.
“When they called to tell me I was selected as Principal of the Year, I was like ‘Whoa,’” he said. “As a principal, I never feel like I’ve arrived.”
There’s always room for growth as a person and educator, Teske said. And he’s quick to credit the staff at Canyon Ridge High for successes at the school.
Employees strive to help students see the big picture, Teske said, which helps overcome the tough “day-to-day grind.”
Candidates for the award were required to compile a portfolio of accomplishments, including how their leadership positively affected student achievement.
“(Teske is) someone who has been a leader and proven himself in a lot of venues,” said Rob Winslow, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators.
Teske is known throughout Idaho, is highly motivated and works hard, Winslow said. “It’s nice to see him recognized.”
Canyon Ridge focuses on empowering students to make their own decisions about learning. And, research shows, it’s beneficial for students to participate in extracurricular school activities.
But for some students who are living in poverty, that’s a challenge. So Canyon Ridge created a new offering this semester: club days twice a month.
It allows all students — including those who work or take care of younger siblings after school — to participate in a club during the school day.
Students filled out a survey about their interests, and 50 clubs were formed.
Another new initiative: campus improvement day, with the inaugural event Friday. Each advisory class will have a portion of the school building they’ll be in charge of cleaning and beautifying.
It’s a way for teens to have ownership of their school, Teske said.
Academically, Canyon Ridge has a “go on” focus under a GEAR UP grant, encouraging students to pursue next steps after graduation such as workforce training, enlisting in the U.S. armed forces or going to college.
“We’ve really been beating that down hard,” Teske said.
L.T. Erickson, secondary programs director for the Twin Falls School District, nominated Teske for the award.
“He has such an amazing vision for what he wants to do at the school as a whole,” Erickson said. “And he works with his staff to implement that and make it become a reality.”
Teske focuses on student achievement and makes it a priority for every student to pursue some type of post-high school education, Erickson said. “It is an expectation that they will go on.”
Teske’s staff members admire his vision, Erickson said. “He’s always trying to improve and progress.”
The number of Canyon Ridge students taking dual credit classes — earning both high school and college credits simultaneously — doubled this school year.
And last year, Canyon Ridge’s graduation climbed to 89 percent, up one percentage point. “We’re hoping to break that 90 percent threshold,” Teske said.
It’s quite an accomplishment, he said, especially considering the large population of refugee students — more than 100.
“We keep getting more and more,” Teske said.
He grew up in Twin Falls, attending Morningside Elementary School for kindergarten, Lincoln Elementary School, Robert Stuart Middle School and Twin Falls High School.
He attended Ricks College for one year before serving a two-year church mission in Korea. That experience, Teske said, helped him understand cultural differences “outside of sheltered Idaho.”
When he returned, he spent two years at the College of Southern Idaho and two years at Idaho State University. He later went on to earn advanced degrees, including a doctorate in education.
Teske started his career in 1997 as a biology teacher at Twin Falls High.
“It was kind of cool to be hired back in the high school I used to attend,” he said. He saw teachers’ dedication behind the scenes, which “you don’t fully appreciate as a student.”
Teske later taught science and was a comprehensive school reform grant coordinator at Robert Stuart Middle School and was vice principal at Oregon Trail Elementary School.
He was principal at Oregon Trail for four years and principal at Robert Stuart for three years.
Teske’s efforts as an educator boil down to helping students prepare for the real world.
Realistically, students will remember some class content and forget some, Teske said. “I think the most important thing is for them to be life-ready.”
TWIN FALLS — Twin Falls High School is reeling after a school-spirit activity left some students feeling marginalized and sparked harassment of transgender students.
Some students are so upset they haven’t returned to school.
The student council organized the event April 28, a school tradition. In past years, it was a “boys versus girls” day with friendly competitions. But in response to student concerns, student leaders changed it to “blue versus pink” this year in an effort to be more inclusive.
A group of students — including some who are transgender — say they feel targeted after wearing purple shirts to school instead of pink or blue. And messages painted on the school rock over the weekend are raising bigger issues about gender and student acceptance at the high school.
Emotions were running high all week but some students put up posters encouraging purple as a sign of including everyone.
“Within a few hours, most of them had been scribbled on or taken down,” said one student who declined to be named. “That made me feel kind of bad about it but there wasn’t emotion until the next day.”
Twin Falls High student Ryan Flores, 14, said he heard negative comments even before Friday surrounding the students – including himself – who decided to wear purple.
“I hadn’t even told anyone I would be wearing purple that day, and I was already getting yelled at about it,” he said. He said he thought he could still pull through and didn’t want to be “that one kid who complains about everything.”
Twin Falls resident Jen Blair, an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, said her daughter, who is straight, decided to participate.
“It was pretty hostile in the hallways all day, apparently,” Blair said.
Her daughter was yelled at, including comments to the effect of, “boys have a penis and girls have a vagina.”
“For students who are gender variant, it was a particularly intense day,” Blair said.
Some teachers led class discussions about gender during the day but other incidents felt traumatizing to some students, she said.
In one classroom, a student wrote a message on a chalkboard — “transgenderism is a mental disease” — but it was erased without discussion, Blair said.
She said one student made a comment to a classmate that transgender people “just need to kill themselves.”
“It was just a really horrific day for some of these students,” she said.
Ryan said he heard “some very negative and vulgar comments” at school Friday. And during the all-school assembly at the end of a long day, students sat in two groups: those wearing pink and those wearing blue.
“What I saw was just repulsive, and it made me feel ill,” Ryan said. He started having a panic attack.
He said he didn’t want to go to the boys’ side because he thought he’d be kicked out, but he’s not a girl. Other students felt the same way, he said. There was no place for them.
“I didn’t feel like I was being thought about or valued,” Ryan said. “I was basically being told I didn’t exist but I know a lot of people have it way worse.” Some students he knows don’t identify as either gender or identify as both.
One friend of the student who declined to be named had no idea where to sit during the assembly or where they belonged. “I felt scared for them because they were lost and in pain about the school not accepting everybody.”
When students left school, they saw the school rock had been painted: half pink and half blue, and with the international symbols for male and female.
Words were also written on the rock: “Tradition is Tradition.”
“It was kind of like a slap in the face after a rough day,” Blair said. “Then the social media began.”
One picture of the rock was circulating via social media with a caption below it: “F*** that transgender bulls***.”
Students who wore purple to school decided to paint the school rock dark blue, one of Twin Falls High’s colors.
“I was super proud of that,” Blair said.
They painted it around 11 p.m. Saturday, accompanied by adults because “the students were afraid they would get physically attacked,” Blair said.
Students wrote “All Bruins United” on one side of the rock and “No H8!!!” on the other side.
By 1 or 2 a.m., the rock had been painted over with red paint and in white letters: “Netflix and Chill?” and ”Hulu and Commitment,” phrases often used as euphemisms for sex.
The student council was called in to paint over it. By Monday, the rock displayed a message for teacher appreciation week.
Blair is a member of “Mama Dragons,” a support group for gay Mormons, their families and allies. She joined after her son came out as gay. She also works with youth through Magic Valley Pride, helps with gay/straight alliances at Twin Falls and Canyon ridge high schools and is on a national board for a LGBTQ Mormon group.
She and a student met with an assistant principal Monday, and she says they received a good response.
But on Tuesday, some students decided to stay home or go to Blair’s house.
Twin Falls High is a “battle zone,” Blair said Tuesday. “Kids who are the minorities just aren’t at school today.”
Ryan returned to school Tuesday but was getting text message updates about what was happening with the school rock, started panicking and broke down in the middle of his first period class. He left school after that.
“I no longer felt safe,” he said. He said he wants to return to Twin Falls High but needs to know there’s a safe environment first and a punishment for “the kids who have created such as violent environment.”
And he said the school rock messages need to be addressed “very seriously.”
When she met with school officials Monday, Blair said, they weren’t aware any students had even complained about it.
Twin Falls School District Superintendent Wiley Dobbs urged students to report any concerns to school administrators.
“We want to make sure that students know if they’re uncomfortable about a situation or they feel like they’ve been discriminated against in some fashion, they need to report it,” he said.
Dobbs said Twin Falls High administrators weren’t aware of concerns with the spirit day until Monday and went to work investigating it. He’s pleased with how they responded.
The school district doesn’t have policies or rules about student expression using school rocks, district spokeswoman Eva Craner said. “Maybe that will be something that administrators will look at now.”
The district does have a non-discrimination policy “that would cover any form of expression on our campuses,” she said.
In 2015, Twin Falls school trustees adopted a new gender identity and sexual orientation policy. It includes a section about school dress codes, saying they must be gender neutral, “including (dress codes for) the traditional school day, school activities including dances/prom, and graduation.”
The policy states “disciplinary action” will be taken for students and employees who don’t follow it, but the policy doesn’t provide details about what those actions might entail.
School administrators have been reviewing the policy over the last couple of days, Craner said.
In the future, school officials plan to provide more education and training to students — specifically, student council members — “to make sure all students feel welcome in our school,” she said.
The student council had good intentions for creating an engaging spirit week for their classmates, Craner said. “Perhaps it could have been more inclusive.”
Twin Falls High’s class rock was placed in front of Roper Auditorium by a graduating class in the late 1960s, Dobbs said. It was later moved to in front of the main school building.
Students often paint the rock with messages throughout the school year, such as to celebrate a friend’s birthday or remember a classmate who has died.
“There are very few times where a message has had to be removed or edited,” Dobbs said. “I think that the kids over the years have used their First Amendment rights pretty darn well.”
But the aftermath of Friday’s spirit day may prompt school officials to make changes.
“We want to make sure that students know if they’re uncomfortable about a situation or they feel like they’ve been discriminated against in some fashion, they need to report it.” Superintendent Wiley Dobbs