Speakers scold Cedar Rapids school board in wake of fallout from teacher-student sex scandal

Superintendent: 'Significant new concerns' led to departure of Washington Principal Ralph Plagman

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CEDAR RAPIDS — About a dozen speakers berated Cedar Rapids Superintendent Brad Buck and school board members Monday evening, the first board meeting since Washington High School Principal Ralph Plagman’s resigned in the wake of a teacher-student sex scandal.

A long-term substitute teacher, Mary Beth Haglin, 24, was arrested on a charge of sexual exploitation July 22 in what police say was a relationship with a 17-year-old male student there.

Plagman — Washington’s principal for 35 years who has said he was asked by district officials to step down before the new school year — announced his resignation last week.

“If Dr. Plagman, the man who cared about everyone, can be thrown away, then no teacher is safe at Washington High School,” Washington senior Peter Greubel said during the meeting.

In opening the meeting, Buck and board President John Laverty stood by the decision to remove Plagman.

“The past few weeks have not been easy,” Laverty said. “However, given the facts known at this time by the board, our superintendent and legal counsel, it is without any doubt that the appropriate steps have been taken.”

Laverty said Plagman was not forced to resign “by the school board” but chose to after being presented findings of the district’s ongoing investigation.

The room was tense as parents and students addressed the elected board and school staff in front of about 75 attendees, airing their frustrations with a perceived lack of transparency surrounding Plagman’s departure.

“Show some respect for employees who have tried their best to be respectful of you,” said Jane Hutchins. a parent of two Washington High students and president of the school’s PTA.

Buck, who began his tenure as superintendent a little more than a year ago and has said he was not made aware of Haglin’s conduct until May, said he is working to improve the district’s communication. But, he said, some details cannot be publicly shared for personnel and student confidentiality reasons.

None of the district’s designated investigators were involved in the initial probes of Haglin dating to February, although district policy required it, All were at least three years overdue for recertification.

Alluding to that failure, and also to a lapse that at first allowed Haglin to keep teaching at other schools, Buck shared five points of district action:

• A need to formalize a process for ensuring investigators regularly refresh their training;

• A need for a central contact to verify compliance with the training and certification;

• Regular training for administrators on the appropriate investigative procedures to follow when a complaint is made and the type of investigation to follow;

A need for communication between building administrators and district administrators about complaints and the resulting investigation;

• A need to document and train administrators on when to remove substitute teachers from the centralized database the district uses to hire subs.

The district trained administrators on investigation techniques in September, Buck said, which “would support an expectation, especially for long term, experienced administrators, of the responsibilities they have to act” in cases of possible sexual abuse.

A district investigation opened after Haglin’s arrest will “conclude shortly,” he said, and the district then will issue a statement.

Monday, Buck said he could share only that the district investigation revealed “significant new concerns” that “were quickly validated.”

Those were shared with Plagman, Buck said, which led him to quit.

Before the board formally accepted Plagman’s resignation, Buck also reminded community members that a student victim is at the center of the situation.

“While there is a rush to demand details about the investigation, I am hopeful that upon reflection by the adult members in our community, there will be a realization about the important work that is underway to protect these students and their identities,” Buck said.

 

 

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