The Ketchikan School Board voted unanimously during a special meeting mid-day Monday to table approval of an investigator contract.
The board also voted to expand the search for a firm to look into the district’s actions related to complaints about a former teacher who faces criminal charges of sexual abuse of a minor.
The special board meeting was supposed to last up to an hour, but went closer to 90 minutes. Much of that time was taken by public comment.
Matt Hamilton reminded board members that Ketchikan’s District Attorney Ben Hofmeister recently asked them to seriously consider timing, because the public results from an investigation could taint Ketchikan’s jury pool.
Hamilton said he asked others on social media what the board should do, and for more than 10 minutes he read aloud the names of people who agreed the district should wait. Those in the audience chanted “just wait” after each name.
Several speakers also called for district administrators to be put on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation.
Doug Edwards was the long-time culinary arts teacher at Ketchikan High School. He retired at the end of this school year, and was charged just days after with multiple counts of sexual abuse of a minor. Edwards also was a pastor at a local church.
Since those charges were announced, others have come forward with accusations against Edwards, and said their complaints to administrators were ignored. The investigation is meant to look into those concerns.
However, some who spoke during the special board meeting questioned the choice of attorney picked to lead the investigation. Clint Campion of Anchorage works for a firm that already has a relationship with district administration.
Kevin Staples said he’s not sure why the board doesn’t see a conflict with a firm hired to investigate someone who hired them for another job.
“I’m here to tell you in no uncertain terms, that’s a conflict of interest,” he said. “If you go today to hire this firm, quite possible their entire investigative report will be suspect.”
Staples and another speaker, Liz Jones, also told the board that it doesn’t look good for three board members to be seen together outside of public meetings.
Jones said that Board President Trevor Shaw and members Kim Hodne and Glen Thompson were seen leaving a Ward Cove building right before a school board meeting.
“It would seem that you act with a blatant disregard for the appearances you are presenting and the magnitude of your decisions with regard to those appearances,” she said. “Whether your intent is collusion or you’re just going to have a cup of coffee with a friend, you need to understand that perception is everything and this is a small town.”
Staples said the three board members’ violated the state Open Meetings Act. However, the act stipulates that a violation would require more than three members of the school board to meet without public notice.
There also were rumors that the three same members were seen hiking together on Perseverance Trail. However, Thompson clarified that the third person on that hike was in fact Thompson’s wife. He also noted that he and Shaw are friends and work at the same office in Ward Cove.
“We need to stop with some of the innuendoes and the rumors and the Ketchikan rumor mill and keep our focus on the facts,” he said. “The fact is that this board has a duty to keep the kids safe. That’s our first job. We’re trying to do that the best we know how and we are listening to you.”
Thompson said the board wants to fix any problems in the school district, and at the same time understands the importance of not obstructing the criminal case.
Hodne, who was clearly upset, told those in the audience that the board is doing everything it can with the help and advice of legal counsel. He said there are things they can’t talk about. But, Hodne said, he won’t accept false accusations.
“I will not be demonized. I will not be falsely represented,” he said. “I’m doing the best of my ability, I am pushing hard, but I will not sit back and idly take lies and misrepresentations to my character and my integrity any more.”
Shaw told the audience that this has been the most stressful time of his life and he wants nothing more than to guarantee the safety of every student moving forward.
Shaw noted that the board was limited in what it could vote on during the special meeting, but there would be more discussion and consideration during the upcoming Aug. 8 regular meeting.