The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

April 15, 2014

Audience members question board's actions

MIDDLEBURG — Months of negative news connected to the Midd-West School District erupted Monday with about 150 faculty, staff and residents confronting the school board Monday night.

The crowd was drawn to the meeting by reports that acting Superintendent Daphne Snook had been suspended without pay, a decision that was confirmed at the meeting by board President Victor Abate.

A surprising note was that her removal was a result of an alleged breach of the district email system that is now under police investigation.

Snook said she was not told that there was an investigation when she was suspended late last week and denies any wrongdoing.

“This situation is a result of a long series of disagreements where we — teachers and administrators — have refused to relinquish the educational direction of the district from a path that has already proven to have increased student achievement at Midd-West as evidenced by the continuous increase in student test scores,” she said from her home.

“The board has continued to pressure us to move away from what we strongly believe are the right things for children educationally.

“Sometimes I think we lose sight of those who are most affected by the adult controversy.”

Part of the disagreement has been over the Reader’s Workshop, a new reading program that has divided faculty and staff. On Monday, Abate announced that the board had canceled a planned teachers training course for the program.

Others echoed Snook’s sentiments urging the board to work with district employees to resolve differences.

“We want to do what’s right for kids,” said union president Ann Murray.

Murray expressed dismay about several controversial events that have happened in the past six months, including the sudden resignation of Superintendent Wesley Knapp, followed by the document outlining 36 charges levied by the board that led to his resignation and was later leaked to the media.

There were 12 copies of the charges handed out, said district solicitor Orris Knepp, who made a point of saying he was not responsible for leaking the information and “stirring things up for Dr. Knapp.”

He then took Murray to task for complaining about the charges becoming public while calling for the reasons behind Snook’s suspension to be revealed, a request Murray never made, and she said so at the meeting.

But it was Knepp’s comment, “You don’t have the right to know what’s going” that elicited gasps from the crowd.

Pastor Jim Plank stirred the crowd by describing an email sent to him by director Ronald Wilson in reply to a letter he penned in support of Knapp.

Wilson, who in late March sent out a mass email to district employees threatening termination to anyone who disagreed with the board, accused Plank in the letter of harassing and cajoling board members and said he would file “contempt charges against you and your minions and you can do your protesting from a cell.”

Wilson said nothing as Plank read the letter aloud.

Plank said he was stunned that a public official would send him a “threatening and demeaning” letter, adding to much applause from the spectators, “I don’t feel I’ll be bullied into silence. It seems to be a favored tactic of this board, but it’s not acceptable.”

Jenn Arbogast, a mother of three, spoke in support of the administration, faculty and staff, which she said was getting “pushed under the bus” by the board.

Referring to the crowd, she said, “This group will get bigger.”

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