The New Rockford-Sheyenne school board voted 4-2 yesterday against a recommendation to fire their superintendent, Jill Louters. Louters had been the subject of an investigation by School Board President John McKnight for staying in a hotel room on March 23rd with her son and three other fifth-grade boys. This occurred after a North Dakota National Archery in the Schools Program State Tournament that was held March 23rd – 24th in Minot.
Apparently not all parents were aware that their sons would be staying in the same room as Louter. And when they learned that they had, concerns were raised that Louters’s decision to stay in a room with the three unrelated boys was inappropriate and unprofessional. But after a record turnout to the school board meeting in support of the superintendent, and finding no official policies to have been broken, the board rejected McKnight’s recommendation to terminate— resulting in his own resignation as School Board President.
Whether a person agrees or disagrees with the board’s decision, does McKnight and the parents to the boys have a point? I think that they do.
We don’t have to look very far to find examples in the news of tragic circumstances regarding administrators or teachers and students. Just last month, more accusations surfaced against a Williston teacher who had already been charged with three counts of gross sexual imposition. A simple Google search regarding such things, in relation to North Dakota, will turn up more examples than one cares to read about.
And it’s not a new phenomenon. Way back in 2007, the Bismarck Tribune ran a story about North Dakota not being immune from teacher sex scandals.
Now, let me be clear. I’m not suggesting at all that Superintendent Jill Louters is a sexual predator. What I’m suggesting is that it was unwise to put herself in a position with those boys that could cause people to question or to make allegations. And she probably should’ve at least acknowledged as much, instead of simply stating, “I did not violate any policies, so there are no sanctions against me.”
I think it’s also worth noting that the New Rockford-Sheyenne situation may expose a double standard as well. What if it was a male superintendent with unrelated fifth-grade girls in his hotel room? Would the outcome have been the same? I’m guessing not.
Just one year ago, Valley News Live ran a story on “Disparities in How Men and Women are Sentenced for Sex with Students“. In June of last year, Fox News ran a similar story. Again, I’m not suggesting Louters is guilty of sexual impropriety. That’s simply not the case. But the evidence is compelling— we seem to treat women different than men when it comes to teacher-student relationships. Or in this case, administrator-student relationships.
I should also point out that the finger of criticism shouldn’t only be directed at Superintendent Louters. After all, shouldn’t parents have been asking questions about chaperones and sleeping arrangements when they agreed to send their boys on a trip to the state tournament? And what about the school board for not having a policy in place regarding such arrangements on overnight trips?
It’s evident to me that at least three important lessons can be learned from this situation:
- School boards should implement policies that protect everyone involved— most especially students.
- Administrators, teachers, and chaperones should see to it that they don’t put themselves in a position where complaints or allegations can be made.
- Parents should be sure to have specifics in regards to chaperones and sleeping arrangements for their children who are participating in activities that result in overnight trips.
These situations are preventable and the necessary steps should be taken by all school districts to prevent them.
As a side note, Jill Louters is a finalist for one of two positions on North Dakota’s Board of Higher Education. Should this situation affect her candidacy for that position?