Embattled Hibbing school administrator resigns

Hibbing High School (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

Hibbing High School (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

Former Hibbing High School assistant principal Jac Fleming has resigned, according to a Tony Potter story in the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Fleming was at the center of a major community controversy over his conduct with female students. The state human rights department released a finding of discrimination based on gender against Fleming earlier this year.

Fleming was fired over the inappropriate conduct last year but reinstated due to a lack of evidence. That caused an uproar, especially after the details of his behavior emerged.

Girls reported being called repeatedly to Fleming’s office where he would prompt discussions about the girls’ personal lives and past sexual traumas. He was also reported to have demanded that girls bend over at the knees to determine if skirts were too short. Several girls reported being traumatized by the experiences.

After Fleming was reinstated the school assigned him to new duties where he would have minimal contact with students. However, community groups like Advocates for Family Peace and the newly formed Hibbing Coalition of Safe and Accountable Schools found that to be an inadequate response.

In recent weeks, the district’s administration and board stressed “moving forward” from the events, which started another uproar. Now Fleming has resigned.

As I wrote three weeks ago, Fleming’s conduct was one part of the problem, but equally important is the way the district handles complaints like these and the culture and communication inside the school.

Melissa Scaia, director of the Advocates for Family Peace and one of the leaders of HCSAS released the following statement:

The Hibbing Coalition for Safe and Accountable Schools (HCSAS) believes that the motion to accept the resignation of Jac Fleming as the Assistant Principal at Hibbing High School at today’s school board meeting is a significant step towards increased safety and accountability in our school district. After the release of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights report and the community meeting with the Human Rights Commissioner there was increasing concern for the safety of students in our District.

“This is clearly significant and creates an overall sentiment that our students and community can see as increased safety and accountability in our school district. However, there is much more to address and build upon to make our school district one in which the culture, policies and structure are better designed to address additional alleged incidents and work to prevent this from ever happening again. I truly believe that is what can and will happen in our community,” said Scaia.

The HCSAS has a number of questions still remaining after today’s school board meeting:
1. The resignation is June 30, 2016. What will be his role at the school until then?
2. What prompted his resignation? Does he still hold a license to work at another school district?
3. What actions regarding increased accountability, policy and cultural changes still need to be made at HHS to prevent similar harm to continue?
4. What is being taught to the students of Hibbing High School when the leaders of the District do not apologize or acknowledge the pain and harm experienced by female students?

The Hibbing Coalition for Safe and Accountable Schools (HCSAS) asks the School District principal and board leadership to:

1) acknowledge the hurt and pain experienced by female students; and

2) make a sincere apology for what has occurred.

Far from mere rhetorical exercises, these acts of contrition establish the act as abhorrent and show that the District wants to improve the District. Acknowledging the hurt and pain experienced helps the victims, the parents, students, teachers, staff and community in their healing.

The HCSAS respectfully requests that the following Hibbing School District leadership make some type of public acknowledgement and apology for the hurt and pain experienced:

· Current School board chair John Berklich,

· Principal Mike Finco,

· Current School board chair pro-tem Jeff Polcher – also school board chair when investigation began in 2013

The HCSAS applauds the public apology made by Superintendent Brad Johnson. He was not an employee of the district during the time of the incidents or the investigation.

In the settlement agreement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights the Hibbing School District deniedthat it engaged in “gender and gender orientation discrimination in its educational programs thereby denying it violated MN Statute 363A.13.”

The HCSAS is requesting the public apology by the school district because we believe it will be pivotal to preventing future problems like this in the future. An acknowledgement of the pain and hurt that occurred and an apology are fundamental ingredients to make reparations happen. An acknowledgment and apology is not the solution alone, but it is an absolutely essential step.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It’s on us to create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported. Our actions are never neutral. We either support the continuance of the abuse or are part of creating a liberating and empowering culture that has no toleration for sexual assault. Silence is an action. In which direction are you supporting?

Victims can receive resources from the following agencies:

Advocates for Family Peace

Northern St. Louis County Sexual Assault Program

Program to Aid Victims of Sexual Assault

First Witness Child Advocacy Center

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