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Concerns raised over Plum City School District bullying and administration

An anti-bullying poster inside Plum City High School. David Clarey / RiverTown Multimedia.

Plum City School District parents and others are concerned over the school administration’s communication on student bullying and a recent faculty departure.

At a Jan. 3 school board meeting about 15 parents and others waited for almost three hours during a closed session to voice concerns over the handling of alleged bullying issues and the recent departure of the school’s 4K teacher. The school board deferred comments about those concerns to Superintendent Amy Vesperman.

“There’s a huge [bullying] problem in this situation,” said Leah Gilles, who removed one of her children from the school due to alleged bullying. “We went through the proper channels, we run into the fact that nothing is documented, there are no consequences that happen.”

In a Monday interview, school principal Michael Kennedy pointed to several recent actions the district has made to address student behavior issues in the district but he declined to comment on employment concerns or specific issues.

The school has recently implemented a new bus policy to better combat behavior issues there and has started using a state program called the Positive Behavior Initiative Support (PBIS) to address school issues, Kennedy said.

“This [PBIS] program is really a comprehensive approach on how do we systematically approach this,” Kennedy said. ‘These are the things I’m doing, the things I’m doing to serve our community.”

School staff has gone to various trainings on student behavior as part of the program, he said. The school is also working to improve communication between staff and parents through a new website, a monthly regular district newsletter and other communication improvement measures, said Vesperman, who started in July 2018.

“We have some systems that we’re looking at that need improvement. Systematic changes don’t happen overnight,” she said.

Some of the measures will be focused on helping parents better understand school policies.  

The school is also looking at increasing the guidance counselor’s availability for students, she said. The school also needs to address what is bullying versus what might be a one-time incident, Vesperman said.

“I want to make it clear that we are trying to address anything that is being brought to us,” she said. “It takes two months to get a bus policy approved. We’ve done a lot in a short amount of time.”

Area resident and Plum City graduate Kris Ingli, who teaches at another school, was at the Jan. 3 meeting in support of recently departed staff. In an emailed statement, Ingli said that community members are “concerned at the direction our administration has taken the district” and criticized the school administration's approach to working with students and staff.  

“We have lost valuable staff and educators as a direct consequence of the actions of our school administration,” she wrote in an email to the Herald.

Kennedy declined to comment on those criticisms, noting he was “handcuffed to what he can respond to.” Vesperman said that the district is limited in what it can address.

“The other important thing is that there are two sides to every story,” she said. “Obviously we don’t do things without a reason, we can’t say anything because of our jobs and our confidentiality. That’s just how it is.”

At the Jan. 3 meeting, school board president Kurt Henn said the board “has taken into account all of the input from the community over the past few weeks,” and that it is looking into “different restructuring options to best support the students and staff.”

Parents at the Jan. 3 meeting said that at a previous meeting more parents shared concerns. The school board next meets on Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Plum City High School Library; a public forum will be a part of that meeting.