The Ottumwa Community School District should spend its holiday break doing some soul searching after this week’s debacle over an attempt to reprimand an employee for reporting suspected abuse.
Legal resolution of the case should not replace the deep reflection the district must undertake as a result of the whole mess. The district’s response was, from the start, deeply flawed. At best, it was an attempt to seize on the most slender of technicalities to deny wrongdoing. At worst, it was a conscious attempt to mislead the people it serves.
The district didn’t claim miscommunication or misunderstanding in its initial statements. It said the allegation it reprimanded an employee was untrue. The only way for that to be an accurate statement is if the reprimand itself never existed, which is what the district now claims.
Caught in the conflicts between the reality of the document’s existence and their own statements, the district contends the reprimand never took place. Its justification is that the reprimand was never signed, thus never took effect. Legally, there may be an argument there. But in real terms, in human terms, that’s bunk.
The document, which the Courier has obtained, was sent by Lonna Anderson, as stated in the county attorney’s filing. It opens with a blunt statement: “This is a formal written reprimand that will be placed in your personnel file.”
Regardless of whether the reprimand wound up being added to the employee’s file, the intent was very real. And that is the underlying flaw in every justification the district has offered.
Ottumwa school officials intended to reprimand an employee for taking action that employee was legally required to take. They took concrete steps to do so. They were stopped only by the employee’s refusal to sign and the interest the county attorney’s office took in the matter.
The district’s leadership committed multiple errors. The first was attempting to reprimand an employee for following the law. The district compounded it by issuing a misleading statement when that reprimand became public, then doubling down on it when it became indisputably clear it had indeed attempted to reprimand the employee.
This is a case in which the district was caught. We are forced to wonder whether there have been other cases.
One thing is crystal clear. Community trust in the district has been severely undermined by this episode, and the administration has only itself to blame.
Restoration of that trust is something the school board must address. It must assess whether the board itself can trust individuals who supervise the staff that protect the children of the district, the district your taxes support.