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Grants Pass School District Termination Hearings
Staff terminated for speaking out against transgender bathrooms

Editor's Note: This story is shared from the Josephine County Eagle Forum.

On July 15th, the Grants Pass School District 7 Pre-Termination held hearings for North Middle School Assistant Principal Rachel Damiano and science teacher Katie Medart following comments made in a video which asserted that students should use sex appropriate bath-rooms, and discouraged cross-gender bathroom usage. The comments made months ago caused some political correct outrage, and calls for their termination.

The board was split because both motions to support the superintendent’s recommendation to terminate passed by 4 to 3 votes.

The “yes” votes were cast by Board chair Scott Nelson, Brian DeLaGrange, Cliff Kuhlman and Debbie Kuhlman.

The “no” votes were cast by Gary Richardson, Casey Durbin and Todd Neville.

While true, there is a lot more to this story which needs to be to told.

The hearing began with the school district attorney Nancy Hungerford explaining the basis of the allegations. The allegations were supported by a report prepared by former Grants Pass Police Chief Bill Landiss who now operates Pacific Consulting and Investigations.

Next, Damiano delivered her answer to allegations. She went through the allegations point-by-point. We heard how the Oregon Revised Statutes define political activity and how her video did not constitute political activity as defined by state law.

We also learned about the “Heckler’s Veto” which the First Amendment Center defines as, “A heckler’s veto occurs when the government accepts restrictions on speech because of the anticipated or actual reactions of opponents of the speech.”

In this case, what we learned was that the commotion occurred a week after the "I Resolve" video was posted, which proposed that school bathrooms and locker rooms be segregated based on the students’ anatomy. The commotion was caused in part by the superintendent who sent out an email asking to hear from anyone who had been offended by the video.

The board members had an opportunity to question Damiano as well as the district’s attorney. Richardson asked, “What is the district’s policy for putting teachers on paid administrative leave?” The attorney answered that the district has no written policy or procedure to follow. Under Oregon law, the superintendent makes the decision, and the employee is placed on paid administrative leave.

A D V E R T I S E M E N T

A D V E R T I S E M E N T

A motion was made to support the superintendent’s recommendation to terminate Damiano. The motion was followed by a brief discussion. To summarize, Richardson pointed out errors in the private investigator’s report and concluded no violations of school policy occurred.

DeLaGrange said that our “top priority is to make all students feel as safe as possible.”

Board member Todd Neville said that “due process was not followed because no attempt was made to resolve the situation at the lowest level.”

Following the discussion, the board had a rollcall vote. Each board member had to state “yes” or “no” to cast their vote. When it came to Kuhlman, he held up a document he wanted to discuss. Nelson pointed out to him that it was time to vote.

The district’s counsel Bill Ransom spoke to him briefly away from the group. When he came back, he cast the deciding “yes” vote.

Rachel Damiano had been officially fired.

There was a 30-minute break before the next hearing began. The audience was visibly upset with some mad, some in tears, and some livid. Observers noted that someone said: “they’ll never pass a school bond after this.”

At 5pm began Katie Medart’s termination hearing. She was represented by a union attorney because she was a teacher. Katie also presented a well-crafted response to the district’s allegations.

Katie’s attorney elaborated on Katie’s testimony and offered a mini-course on free speech protection for school teachers. He summarized past district behavior when it had attempted to restrict the speech of Ryan Clark. He closed with strong words to the board about the consequences of supporting the superintendent’s recommendation to terminate.

During the question and answer period, Neville asked the district attorney, “Do teachers have first amendment rights?” The answer was “not in the classroom.” None of the allegations said that the educators mentioned anything to violate district policy while in the classroom.

The hearing officially ended and it was time for the board to take action via a motion. In a surprising twist, Richardson made a motion to “not support” the superintendent’s recommendation to terminate Katie. This meant that a “yes” vote would reject the termination of Katie. Board member Kuhlman asked at this point, “Is this situation different from the first situation?” Following a brief discussion, Neville seconded the motion and a discussed ensued.

To summarize the discussion, Richardson stated that any violations of school policy were too minor to warrant termination. Board member Debbie Brownell stated that, “I believe the investigator. At least 5 different reasons to terminate. Exhibits show this and she agrees to it.”

Richardson then asked Brownell, “You accept as true which has been shown today to be false. Why” Brownell’s response was, “This is not a debate. I won’t respond.”

Richardson then pointed out that the “district’s 2008 policy was bathrooms will be segregated by gender.” In 2009, the policy changed to the district will maintain “separate male and female bathrooms and locker rooms.” He then asked, “Why is it suddenly disruptive in our schools when Rachel and Katie support a policy which goes back to 2008?”

There was dead silence in the room.

Nelson broke the silence by asking, “Are there any other questions?”

Richardson then pointed out that 4 of the 5 teachers who complained about Rachel and Katie’s video were not employees of North Middle School. He concluded by saying that “Freedom of speech should be called freedom to offend.”

The motion was explained to Kuhlman. He stated, “I am trying to figure out free speech and how it fits into this case.”

The rollcall vote commenced, and Kuhlman voted to “abstain.” Nelson pointed out to him members need to vote “yes” or “no” on this type of matter. He voted “No” to vote against the motion to not support the superintendent. The motion failed and the meeting continued.

Next there was a motion made by Brownell to support the superintendent’s position to terminate Katie.

At this point, there was little more to be discussed. Katie was fired by a 4 to 3 vote.


--Staff Reports

Post Date: 2021-07-18 11:22:52Last Update: 2021-07-18 19:09:36



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