Saturday, April 20, 2024

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Some principals should probably also have been banned from graduation


All six Alamance-Burlington high schools held their graduations this past weekend.  Missing from walking to pick up their diplomas were 82 seniors who had engaged in “senior pranks” at the county’s six high schools.

They were banned by the school superintendent, based on a violation of the student code of conduct in damaging the high schools with everything from overturned classrooms, graffiti (including profanity), disrupted administration offices, and, in the worst case (at Williams High School), filling eight toilets and six urinals with cement, causing $4,000 worth of damage.

But, quite frankly, it now appears that at least one or two principals probably should have been banned from graduation exercises, as well, or faced other disciplinary actions, for their own culpability in the “senior pranks” at their schools.

We continue to hear that some principals, notably Eastern’s Dr. Whitney Fliehman, gave “winks and nods” – if not outright  authorization – for the pranks/vandalism at her school.  At a minimum, Fliehman, according to multiple sources, assured students after their night of mayhem that there would be no consequences for their actions – if they just cleaned up their mess.

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She didn’t have authority to grant clemency for violations of the student code of conduct, which are set by the school board and implemented by her superiors in the school administration, most notably the school superintendent, Dr. Dain Butler.

We’re not surprised to see her transferred this week to one of the smallest principal outposts, Alamance-Burlington Early College, which we suspect will serve as but a temporary post on her way out the door to another school system.

But far worse, and more clearly violating all sorts of ABSS policies in addition to common sense, is the case of Southern High School principal Teresa Faucette, who explicitly gave permission for some of Southern’s senior students to come on campus in the middle of the night.

The disruption at her school was done a week earlier than the other five schools – on the night of May 18, rather than May 25.

If she had been forthcoming with her school administration superiors, the superintendent might have been able to “set the example” with a proper punishment there, and hopefully thwart thoughts of similar mischief at the other schools a week later.

Instead, she covered up – both the fact of the vandalism on campus and her own culpability in having approved and scheduled it with some senior students. The superintendent said this week that Faucette never informed him of the pranks.

A damning indictment, in our opinion.

She both disregarded ABSS policy that requires having a staff member on campus when students are present (Faucette made no such provision) and twice turned down coming to the school when deputies, who she had requested to be present, called her during the pranks.

In hindsight, her actions as principal are the most irresponsible, and provable, inasmuch as she acknowledged her position in advance to the school resource officer on campus and, ultimately, after the fact, to the sheriff who questioned her about whether she really had granted students permission to be on campus that night.

It is both a shame that an otherwise long career should end on such a sour, inappropriate note, and, quite frankly, that her already-scheduled retirement precludes an appropriate disciplinary action, including firing.

We feel especially sorry for the seven Southern seniors who were banned from their graduations and had relied on her grant of permission for their actions on Southern’s campus.

However, permission for wrongdoing doesn’t absolve the students from having made bone-headed decisions, even if an adult made an equally foolish judgment sanctioning their actions.

A word also about the sheriff’s deputies who stood around watching the pranks unfold at Southern.  It appears that some of the worst aspects may have been done after the deputies were no longer present, but their attendance as a sort of safeguard from consequences was not appropriate.

While they apparently believed they had little recourse, it seems to us that, at a minimum, the students on campus after midnight were trespassing (even if with the unauthorized permission of the principal), and could have been arrested – or at least sent home immediately.

Sheriff Terry Johnson – as typically prone to quick, honest responses – says he would never have granted authority to have his deputies on site (without a school official) if he had known in advance about the principal’s request for officers. “We are not there to be babysitters,” he said.

We suspect both Johnson and superintendent Butler will need to give refreshers for their underlings on the proper manner for reporting issues up the chain of command.

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