More than a dozen community members spoke in support of the Nikiski Middle-High School administration and staff during the public presentation period at Monday’s Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board of Education meeting.
The turnout was prompted by the school district’s investigation of two Nikiski Middle-High school administrators and two teachers. The district’s investigation began on Dec. 19 following formal complaints lodged by parents of “sexually suggestive” behavior at the school’s Christmas assembly.
By the call to order at 7 p.m., it was standing room only in the Kenai Peninsula borough assembly room. Nikiski’s school colors adorned many audience members.
Following nearly one hour of public comment, the school’s principal Dan Cartsens made a statement.
Carstens said at no time did he intend to offend anyone with the content presented during the assembly. He said his only motivation was to further build on his relationships with students at the school.
“Moving forward, I make connections with students and become a pillar in our community,” Carstens said.
Ben Carpenter, one of the parents who had questioned the skits produced by school staff on the school district’s Facebook page, was the first to speak during the public comment period. He said wanted to know if the school district found the behavior at the assembly to be appropriate or inappropriate.
School board president Joe Arness said that would not be answered at the meeting.
Kenai Peninsula Borough School District spokeswoman Pegge Erkeneff said the school district is not at liberty to release the result of the investigation because the matter was an internal personnel issue.
“The four employees were at their regularly assigned work duties on Wednesday, January 7, after the investigation was completed,” Erkeneff said.
Nikiski Middle-High School teacher Joe Rizzo said he did not feel that the staff members should have been put on administrative leave following the assembly.
“I think that due process was skirted in this issue,” Rizzo said. “This action was based on inaccurate comments on the district’s Facebook page.”
Erkeneff said the school district had received several official complaints, which is what prompted the investigation. She said she does not want the public to “underestimate the confidence the district has in the administrators at Nikiski High School to do their job.”
The school district declined to provide copies of the complaints. The Clarion is further pursuing this information.
Under the Public Complaints Concerning School Personnel section in the school district’s policy manual, if an issue is not able to be resolved between the staff member the complaint is being lodged against and the concerned party, the school district may need to handle the matter.
Rizzo said he was unhappy with the fact that current procedure would require taking staff out of the building during an investigation, and suggested the school district review and revise the process.
Jason Tauriainen, a special education aide at the school, said he felt the teachers had not acted inappropriately during the assembly.
“The faculty show has always been done it with the intent of entertainment for the kids,” Tauriainen said. “It is about trying to balance having a good time, making it funny for them and making it fun and giving them ways to bond with the teachers.”
Many comments focused on the high integrity of school staff and their commitment to the students.
James Freeman had posted video on social media that his daughter had taken of the assembly.
“In no way shape or form did I ever question the staff’s ability to do their job,” Freeman said. “I questioned the inappropriateness of what they portrayed and what they had shown in front of the school body. I don’t think that was a place for that skit.”
No changes to school district policy are currently being considered, Erkeneff said.
“Any policy changes are a several month process completed with approval from the school board,” Erkeneff said. “Any policy change within the school is up to the administration.”
Carpenter said he hopes that in the future the school district will release the results of the investigation.
“There was an emotional display of support for our wonderful teachers tonight and rightfully so,” Carpenter said. “They do a commendable job day in and day out. I hope that the district behaves in a transparent manner to give the rightfully concerned parents confidence that their concerns are being taken seriously.”
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.