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No complaints filed formally against SV administration

SPRING VALLEY -- Despite accusations on a petition and social media page aimed at replacing a Spring Valley school administrator and school board members, Spring Valley School District Superintendent Dr. Donald J. Haack said no formal complaints against any of those individuals have been made.

When a petition on titled “Spring Valley Schools — Mrs. Cipriano and School Board Members Need to Go” appeared at the end of December, followed by a Facebook page called “Make a Change at SV,” the school board released a statement in support of Spring Valley Middle/High School Gretchen Cipriano. As of Jan. 10, 263 people signed the petition.

In an interview Jan. 3, Haack said no one has made formal complaints to him in the last couple of years, nor the board concerning Cipriano or other staff. No one has spoken about these issues at school board meetings.

The petitions and Facebook page contain posts, many anonymous, detailing complaints of bullying by staff and students, “blatant disregard and respect,” favoritism toward certain students and other complaints.

The Herald interviewed several people concerning their allegations of mistreatment, but only one was willing to go on the record.

Haack said he and the district always want to resolve problems but cannot do so if they don’t know about specific allegations.

“We would like to resolve the problem and take care of people’s concerns as close to the problem as possible,” Haack said. “I mean, that’s the best way to resolve any problem. If you have a problem with me, I would rather you talk to me about the problem because maybe I’ll see it as a problem too and say ‘hey, you’re right’. That’s something we can work with here, but if the problem jumps out there, it’s not going to get resolved.”

The school district website contains a public complaints tab, where the procedure to file a complaint is outlined. Proper complaint channels are listed as:

  1. Teacher or other staff member

  2. Building principal

  3. Superintendent

  4. School board or executive committee

If the person with the complaint/concern is uncomfortable dealing directly with the employee most directly involved with the issue, he or she may speak with the person at the next appropriate level.

Cipriano referred the Herald to Haack for comment as the district spokesperson. She has been principal of SVMS/HS for 13 years, Haack said.

Haack said he feels Cipriano is good at resolving problems on her own.

“Generally, it seems that way because the complaints don’t filter on up often. Occasionally but not often,” Haack said.

Police incidents

One anonymous complainant alleged to the Herald that the police are called to the school “constantly, targeting students, especially farm kids.”

Spring Valley Police Chief John DuBois provided the Herald with the number of incident calls at SVMS/HS for the past two years: 17 in 2015 and 32 in 2016.

“On the reports, most of the traffic stops occurred on County Road CC in front of the high school and the school address was just used as the location for the stop for data entry purposes,” DuBois said.

Of the 2015 calls, three were labeled “juvenile complaints,” one “harassment,” and three “threats.”

In 2016, about half were traffic incidents. Five were juvenile complaints, three were drug complaints and the rest miscellaneous items.

DuBois meets weekly with each school principal to discuss issues and events at the schools.

“These weekly check-ins allow us to head off issues when small and help the police to be more involved in the schools,” DuBois said. “I also usually end up talking to a few different classes about various topics each year. I have talked in the Current Events classes about law enforcement and it is usually more of a question and answer that students come up for questions. I have talked this school year in the health classes about ‘sexting’ and inappropriate online behavior with some Q&A as well.”

DuBois said officers are appearing “semi regularly” before and after school in the parking lot due to “some poor driving behavior by students.”

“This is mostly a decision by the police department and my Emergency Services Committee,” DuBois said. “The officer on duty also stops at home sporting events whenever possible to be a presence and show our support for the school athletics.”

Once or twice a year, drug dog walks are conducted through the schools.

“Most students are aware of the zero tolerance stance on drugs and the expulsion that occurs for drug offenses so we do not have much a of drug issue at the school,” DuBois said.

“I am working with both schools on various ways the police department can be more involved in the schools in a positive way to better interact with students and help build a positive rapport.”

Haack said the police are rarely at the school, and if they are, it’s comparable to other schools.

“The kids are really good. Really they are. And like I said, we’ve had the drug dogs in but the couple years I’ve been here we haven’t found any drugs. So it’s not high on our list of worries. At least no illegal drugs,” Haack said.

Open enrollment

One criticism against the school district by anonymous commenters on the petition is the number of students who choose to open enroll out of the district.

According to Haack, for the 2015-2016 school year, the Spring Valley School District saw 84 students enroll in and 100 students enroll out. In 2014-2015, it was 69 students in, 76 students out. In the 2013-2014 school year, it was 65 students in, 72 students out. In the 2012-2013 school district it was 45 students in, 55 students out.

“The majority of kids who open enroll out haven’t set foot in our schools,” Haack said. “They move into the district and want to keep going to their previous district. We do look at that and see if there’s any patterns.”

Haack also said the reasons students will enroll in or out vary greatly, but students have given Haack reasons why they won’t be returning.

“But they don’t single out a person that isn’t treating them right,” Haack said. “I’m not discounting parents’ or children’s emotions involved in this because it is a deeply personal decision that they make on what’s best for them, for their family, for their children.”

How did this all start

Rachel Gibson, a 2010 SVHS graduate, was a janitor at Spring Valley Middle/High School for two-and-a-half years.

Gibson said she was told stories by students and teachers about alleged disregard and mistreatment by Cipriano and the school board and tried to address those issues by sending an email to school board members recently, using the pseudonym Sue Johnson.

In the email, Gibson said that Cipriano “NEEDS TO LEARN HER PLACE” and “IF this continues, I promise I will make a stink.”

Spring Valley School Board President Peter Coyne replied to the Sue Johnson email by encouraging her come forward at a board meeting during community participation to speak and that “hiding behind a wall throwing stones at people is cowardly and a poor example to set for students in our school.”

Gibson admitted she has never filed a formal complaint or attended a school board meeting as a student or janitor.

In response to Coyne’s email, Gibson went on a rant on her personal Facebook account using “bad language” against the school district.

Gibson was fired from her position the following Monday.

“I just wanted the issues looked at, not me, and that didn’t end up working, so to get their attention I just made a very vulgar Facebook status and I started the petition after...” Gibson said.

Gibson said she doesn’t regret the rant and knew she’d be fired after posting it, but “liked” her position at the school.

Gibson claims responsibility for creating the online petition and is one of the administrators on the “Make A Change At SV” Facebook page.

Although a comment on that page claims one of the administrators was going to run for school board, Gibson said she won’t run for school board, but will focus on her education related to her job as a masseuse.

Three candidates will be on the April 4 ballot for Spring Valley School Board: incumbents Andrew Johansen and Matthew Schreiber along with newcomer Bobbie Jaeger. Mary Huepfel chose not to run for reelection.

Gibson said she hasn’t “looked too much into it” when asked if she’ll speak in front of the school board and “doesn’t know where to start.”

As for how this affects the students, Haack said it will be turned into a learning experience.

“What will likely come out of this more will be some education on … the proper protocol for handling your problem,” Haack said. “If you have dispute and how to resolve things the best way to do that. And is the best way to go out and start a petition online or is the best way to try to resolve it locally and really do something about that. So we’ll use it as an educational time, move forward, but not drawing particular attention to this one issue, but just in general it’s a good idea to take some time and see what we’ve got going on.”