Hibbing must right discrimination wrongs

Hibbing High School (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

Hibbing High School (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

What follows is more of an editorial, but one forwarded to advance a discussion. One of the most baffling stories on the Iron Range this year has been the sprawling saga of a Hibbing High School administrator found to have engaged in inappropriate and discriminatory behavior with female students.

Last year, the administrator was fired but later reinstated after a wrongful termination claim. The district never identified the name of the administrator, claiming it was not public information, but most media outlets credibly identified him as Assistant Principal Jac Fleming. The Hibbing Daily Tribune initially declined to identify him, but has since done so.

After Fleming was assigned a job that, according to the district, would not involve direct contact with students, the state human rights commission began an independent investigation. Last month, the state ruled that sexual discrimination had occurred, describing shocking behavior toward high school girls.

What happened?

This is the Star Tribune summary:

Although Fleming was not a trained counselor and lacks any expertise in matters of sexual abuse, he summoned female students from class to speak with them about such trauma alone in his office, according to the memorandum. Investigators found that one student had been routinely pulled from class twice a week for an entire semester after Fleming learned that she’d been molested.

The girls told MDHR officials that the conversations made them feel uncomfortable and “traumatized.”

On other occasions, female students reported that Fleming advised and questioned them about their “use of birth control, their sexuality and their dating life,” according to the memorandum.

The report also mentioned the practice of having girls turn around and bend over at the waist while in the office to determine if skirts were too short.

To be clear, most reputable places of employment could fire someone for cause in this situation. That’s not the case here, though. Apparently the testimony of affected students is not enough. Fleming and other administrators will receive training on proper boundaries instead.

That’s one part of the outrage. The other part relates to how the district is handling the controversy.

The school superintendent did issue an apology after the findings, but has remained committed to a policy of “moving forward.” In the weeks since this report came out the school board is mired in a debate over facilities use. The district has moved to make it more difficult for a community school safety group to meet at the school by charging it for using the facilities as an outside group. The Hibbing Coalition for Safe and Accountable Schools was formed in response to the Fleming issues, and includes two school board members. At the March 9 meeting, school board directors — who haven’t even been able to agree upon a chairperson since the new year — squabbled over whether it was appropriate for those members to be involved.

But the final straw for me was a development over the weekend. Melissa Scaia of Advocates for Family Peace, the Iron Range’s leading organization for preventing domestic violence and discrimination, said that she was told by the district superintendent Brad Johnson that she could not address the March 9 meeting. Further, he told her she could not discuss the content of the e-mail he was sending her telling her she couldn’t address the school board.

“I believe that this type of action is part and parcel with the same level of consciousness that created and sustained the environment at Hibbing High School,” said Scaia in a press release. “How can we as a community be assured that the future actions of the leadership of the School District will take us down a path towards safety and accountability?”

The thought that a superintendent would honestly believe he could prevent someone like Scaia from speaking out is pure buffoonery. Public Relations 101 would demand that the school board let every single person who has something to say about this to speak their piece. They need to hear it and the people need to say it.

Hibbing Schools administration wants to move forward. It would rather not fixate on the past. But without acknowledging the complete impact of these events on the community, there is no hope of that. In fact, the behavior of the district has been bizarre and, from a public relations standpoint, deeply incompetent.

I think everyone wants to move forward. The only way to do that is if:

  • the citizens of Hibbing are convinced that the district understands what happened and how bad it was,
  • the person involved is treated like any other professional who committed repetitive acts of sexual harassment against minors,
  • all young people are secure in knowing that this should not happen again, and that they will be heard if it ever does,
  • a policy of open communication and access is implemented (this last part is actually existing state law)

Is there any other way to do this? If the district wants to move forward it must do so having addressed this terrible event completely and to the satisfaction of young women and families whose lives were forever changed by it. The discussion must be public and it must create a unified message about what kind of environment the students of Hibbing deserve in their school.

Equal treatment of men and women, boys and girls, on the Iron Range was out of reach for decades of local history. The stories of discrimination and sexism stack up like cord wood. Why linger in bad feelings? It’s time to work toward addressing discrimination, not pretending that it never happened.

UPDATE: It’s been pointed out to me that I should clarify a timeline issue not discussed. Superintendent Brad Johnson took over from former superintendent Bob Belluzzo a year ago after the incidents had taken place, essentially walking into this story. I still don’t agree with his handling of the controversy, but the original problems started under the previous administration. Also, Fleming is no longer the Assistant Principal. He has a different administrative role.

UPDATE II: The Hibbing Daily Tribune has taken issue with my characterization of how they reported the name of the administrator. I’ve revised the piece to make it clear that they did identify Fleming after the reinstatement. However, it is true that they were among the last organizations to do so, despite the fact that the name was well known to most involved. That was an editorial choice. I understand how difficult that choice is in a small town having made decisions like that in the past. But it was not a decision I agree with. The school district has continually maintained that the information was not public, which runs together with the notion that Scaia could not report her conversations with the district. It’s a pattern that must be blown to pieces. However, I mean no ill will toward the Tribune.


  1. Donna Johnson says

    Thank you Aaron! It nice to have another “voice” in the community.

  2. It makes little difference that Mr. Johnson walked into this mess.

    1. He knew what he was walking into when he took this job.
    2. He had the chance to fix the problems, that he walked into.
    3. Instead he fell in lockstep with the way things have been handled in the ISD #701 district for years.
    He still has the opportunity to do what is right. All be it the blister of the 3 school board member’s who’s competence and Mr. Johnsons miss step is festering almost to the bursting point!!
    Either way, nice article Mr. Brown.

  3. kathleen. jokela says

    Jac Fleming is not the first pervert who has hidden in plain sight at the Hibbing High School. He is one of many males who wearing the cloak of legitimacy has stalked girls and female teachers for decades. That any system would not only harbor but protect and enable such a despicable person is in itself heinous ,but to permit that predator to remain on the premises can only convince any reasonable human of the complete inabilty of the superintendent and school board to carry out it’s duties. That it does not and that foolish actions are allowed to continue is certainly to the shame of everyone who does not end it.
    Either all the girls are lying ( and it appears that their assessment of the situations and their stories ring true to the MDHR) or Jac Fleming is lying. So. It is imperative that someone with a spine,a conscience and a heart should step in and lead this simpering mess of gasbagging morons out of their delusion. Let’s not forget: these are our children, our treasure. This school should be a haven and a model of moral and acedemic excellence. Not an example of hellish depravity, pathetic cowardice and ludicrous incompetence within the staff ,administration and school board.
    Such behavior by a man in authority is a breach of trust and a betrayal. If we have zero tolerance for a child who draws a picture of a gun or who mistakenly brings a pen knife to show a friend what his grampa gave him ,we should surely have zero tolerance for a pervert who intentionally uses his position to intimidate and abuse girls by requiring them to tell over and over the humiliating but to him salacious details of their private horrors ,molestations, and abuse Get him help. But get him out! Get them all out.

  4. It’s very sad how this continues. It is, and has been the administrative culture to keep issues underground. Approximately 15 years ago a group of parents requested to be involved in the truancy issue in the school – we were told in no uncertain terms we could not be involved. Five years ago I asked to address the school board about extracurricular activity policy, and I was told that I just wanted to make the school look bad, and if I chose to speak they would make my children look bad. Sadly we had a daughter involved in this issue as well. We have some very good teachers in Hibbing, and parents that want to help. I would so much like to see Hibbing schools change for my grandchildren, if my children choose to stay after their bad experiences.

  5. Add to this the fact that this entire town is run by ignorant, self assured Hibbingites from days past who yearn for their high school glory days of the 60s and 70s, don’t have a clue, and don’t care as long as the status quo is maintained. These people are so arrogant and clueless that they don’t even have our elementary schools on lockdown from the outside during school hours. Why does every other area school? Is it worth the risk of not installing smoke or CO detectors in your house until you have a fire or CO leak because one of those events is statistically unlikely to happen? Oh wait, signs stating “All visitors MUST report to the school office” will definitely prevent a critical incident from occurring. Right.

    On a side note: when you don’t reinvest in the city’s infrastructure and give more recent high school gradutates with a college education and a well rounded worldview incentive to return to the community they grew up in, you get a dying town that will implode on itself. We are our own worst enemy, and we keep on voting in the fools who perpetuate the same problem year after year. Why isn’t anyone challenging those who run this city every time a new business, one actually considering building here, chooses not to come here, or an existing one fails?

  6. Isn’t there a Dukes or Hazard song about Good Ole Boys? That’s also a club, right?

  7. Rhonda Tymenski says

    All the kids in the school need to refuse to enter the school until the molester is out. Why would we send our kids to a building where we know something bad could happen to them. As parents it is our job to protect our children from danger and there is danger in the Hibbing school. It will take the community to get this in the national news before anything will happen. You know as well as I do when the kids show up for school and won’t go in the media is going to show up. Please don’t just let this get swept under another rug. Make them know you mean business!

  8. Thank you, AB!! It’s nice to see more Iron Rangers speaking up and out about the dysfunction that lingers throughout the halls off the Hibbing High School.
    I just want to point out and make it known that Jac Fleming isn’t the only one guilty of these imaginable acts towards minor female students. Those who had knowledge of his behavior, yet chose to be silent, are EQUALLY GUILTY (Example: Belluzzo, Benedict, Finco, Board Members)

    It’s time to clean house! Get the “Good ole Boys” out and take back our school.

  9. PS: Thank you for calling out the Hibbing Daily Tribune as they’ve been “playing it safe” when it comes to the HHS discrimination case and that’s an insult to the victims. So, thank you, AB for acknowledging the facts, abuse, and the names of the perpetrators.

    • Kelly grinsteinner is notorious Lee willing to post private personal information about females who are raped and murdered publicly in the paper stating intimate details of their demise and their attack but yet rides the fence on this

  10. There is no greater evil for a school or college campus to turn its back on students who are “used” in sexual games, inappropriate touching, innuendos, or outright sexual behavior from a teacher, administrator, faculty department head, or even a maintenance person during or after school/campus hours. It is deplorable that an article has to be written to point this out. It is even more deplorable that this issue has not been resolved, whereby, the behavior and the administrator involved has been stopped and removed. This type of behavior is NOT something new. There are countless events such as this that have played out in schools across the Iron Range for years. Yet, again, the dirt gets swept under the carpet. The adult educators slither by and continue teaching (some moving from school district to school district or campus to campus). The teachers remain cloaked in support from others in the institutions. To let this go as let “bygones be bygones” and pass the “buck” stinks of failure on the Superintendent’s duties to remove and ask for prosecution of these educators. Educators who engage in “dalliances” with students really have huge personal issues and when “outed” should be dealt with swiftly by removing them and as well as their license to teach. I strongly feel and believe when you keep sending the message that it is not important, then “why?” do you have “mandatory training” in sexual harassment? If you hold no accountability for despicable behavior from an educator who prays upon students, get rid of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior training. It amazes me that educators, being the leaders of our schools in our communities would even “think” of overlooking and moving forward until “deviant behaviors” are flushed from any school or college in the community and STUDENTS are protected to enjoy and excel, without fear, while focusing on attaining the best education our learning institutions can provide. On a side note: Keep your student at home, stop the money coming in to the district, until voices of parents are heard. Money always talks. There is strength in numbers. It may not be your child this time, but what about next time? If a teacher does it to one and gets by, the chances are, they will do it again, and again, and again. This also applies to college campuses – the stats are frightening on rape, sexual/inappropriate behaviors with college faculty/professors with female students, etc. Just because it is an “adult educational institution” doesn’t mean the instructor has the right to date their students!

  11. Part of me wants to cut the administrators of the district a little slack. I find it very plausible they are still trying to get rid of this guy and are trying to “non-transparent” on purpose to make sure they don’t ruin their legal case should they get sued for wrongful termination. However, the other part of me thinks they already have adequate evidence -particularly with the MDHR report, and the taxpayers shouldn’t have to keep paying this guy a salary and now additional training to keep this guy on staff. Obviously, the accountability wasn’t there in the district to monitor and document the behavior of at least this employee, and the taxpayers would like to make sure steps are taken to bring better accountability to the district so stuff like this doesn’t continue to happen in the future.

  12. Rhonda Tymenski says

    Thank you Arab28 for agreeing with me about not sending your child to school. Every child in that school is at risk and why put your child in a situation like that. But like you said it has to be everyone not just one or two. Again why has nobody contacted the news media about this and that would force the school to do something.

  13. larry-francis: friend says

    The school board has a duty, not to you the public, to their employer who writes their paycheck. While they may have a duty to disclose and to do the right thing, you better ask, disclose to who, the right thing for who. If they fire one who dishonors your offspring (not children, that is a legalese term), do they then confirm the wrong and open the school to a lawsuit? Their paycheck and retirement does not come from you. The safety or harm to your offspring must be weighed against their pay and their employers wishes. You all think American but American is just in your mind, they have changed all of it. Have you watched the movie, The Matrix? Morpheus: “What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.”

    What is wrong with this picture. Simply. no justice, just us at the helm and I do not mean you and I. Whether molesting the mind or the body, molesting is the wrongful taking advantage of and it is wrong, it is a crime, But here, the school board is not yours, it is theirs and they protect it at any cost is the reality of this whole deal. Your offspring (not children, that is a legalese term) are but money for the corporation that can likely be found on Dunn & Bradstreet.

    It will take one hell of a lot of effort to see justice. Delays, promises and silence are the tools against you. The Privacy act and policy exclude most known issues and wrongs. from being publicly aired. Suppression and ignorance (I don’t know) are wicked tools to overcome.

    Job or not, sexual harassment must violate a state law especially when it is an adult and a minor. What was the job description and duties of Fleming at the time. Since schools get federal funding, are there federal violations.

    What has been done? The schools are within the city limits and the city has a responsibility for all within its limits. Has anyone approached the mayor and council. DO the schools get funding from the county. state and/or fed.? What have your elected state and federal officials done for you about this? What about the police department, Once something is reported they normally present to the county prosecutor and they continue whether you change your thoughts on a matter or not. Has the sheriff been contacted? Complaint/s filed? So many vague and unspoken things here.

    In a just society, for every wrong there is a remedy.

  14. Faye Gibson says

    This has been going on for years. Back in my day these gentlemen would get an early retirement. Fast forward 40 years they get a new job title.

  15. Andy Fena says

    This story brings me great sadness. Is this guy really working in the Indian Ed department? Really?

    Give me a break. There is so little courage out there these days. Everyone is afraid of getting sued and following procedure. For crying out loud, dump the guy. This is really wrong.

  16. Patti larsen says

    I am curious with the behaviors of Mr. Fleming, particularly around having the girls ” bend over and check for the height of their skirts” or verbiage to that nature, it seems to me that it is splitting hairs whether this is sexual harassment or sexual assault. I’ve worked with sex offenders who shared grooming their victims with similar actions. Meeting with survivors of sexual assault and asking of them what the survivors reported is nothing less than “disgusting, unprofessional, and retraumatizing” to the young survivors he forced to meet with him. Hibbing is showing that all the the elements of the movie North Country are still alive and well. Simply moving someone to a different position and calling it good with out a coordinated response from the community is proof that there is so much being hidden and unchanged.

  17. John Andrew says

    I wonder how they will fumble the latest scandal?

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