Teton County school leaders condemn trustee's divisive social media post - East Idaho News

Teton County school leaders condemn trustee’s divisive social media post

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DRIGGS — Teton County teachers, principals and the district superintendent recently banded together to publicly censure one of their trustees for a social media post they found “harmful” and “disheartening.”

The board chair and remaining trustees supported the rebuke of Kathleen Haar, who sparked the backlash with a social media post that questioned the hiring of 10 district employees — eight teachers, a counselor, and the head football coach. 

The post reverberated throughout the community, leaving teachers feeling attacked and demoralized just as the school year was starting, Teton County Superintendent Megan Christiansen said at a Sept. 11 board meeting. 

“We dealt with a huge decline in morale,” she told the board. “We had to spend the last two weeks repairing the damage with our staff members … It was really frustrating for me as a superintendent, disheartening for our admin team, and really harmful to our staff. And if you don’t think that impacts kids, it does. When people don’t feel valued in their work, it impacts our kids.”

Teton School District
Teton County Superintendent Megan Christiansen (left) and Board Chair Ray Hinchliff | Connor Shea, Teton Valley News

Christiansen said the post counteracted goals she’s been working toward in the district, like recruiting, hiring, and retaining quality staff members and improving school culture. 

District principals and leaders joined Christiansen in denouncing Haar, signing a letter that Principal Brian Ashton read aloud at the meeting. The district’s administrators and Teton Education Association representatives attended the meeting and stood as Ashton read the letter in a sign of solidarity. 

“We are asking you to stop targeting individual schools, individual teachers, and individual administrators,” Ashton read. “Your actions are having a negative impact on staff morale and our ability to keep students at the center of our focus. It is causing realtime harm and we are having a hard time keeping up with the damage. Your approach is also generating mistrust that is unfair and very difficult to repair.”

Haar was at the meeting, but did not visibly react as the letter was read.

Ray Hinchcliff, the board chair, offered his support for the superintendent, administrators, and teachers. 

“The most important thing we as a school board can do is promote policies, practices, and governance that lead to improved student achievement,” he said. “We need to get behind our superintendent, our admin team, the staff, teachers, and everybody to make that happen and not be a hindrance.”

Hinchcliff penned an apology for Haar’s behavior to the community, which was published in the Teton Valley News Monday, and reached out to the Idaho School Boards Association for advice on how “to improve the way we function as a board.” The ISBA suggested the board implement new operating protocols, which Hinchcliff plans to add to the board’s ethics and compliance standards. 

The remaining trustees also spoke in support of district teachers and staff and condemned Haar’s actions. 

“I don’t know at this point how the challenge with your behavior could be clearer,” Trustee Shannon Brooks-Hamby said. “If the behavior doesn’t change, I think it is a willful inability to comply with what we agree needs to be in place to function highly, not only as a board but also as a district … And if the behavior doesn’t change, I think your zone four constituents have some conversations and some decisions to make.”

Brooks-Hamby and Trustee Michael Adams implored Haar to comment, respond, or explain her actions, but she declined to comment. 

“Not tonight,” she said. “Everybody else has had a chance to think about what they wanted to say, and I think I’m entitled to that also.”

Idaho Education News also reached out to Haar via email Wednesday, and she requested a day to reply. EdNews will update this story if she provides further comment. 

In April, Boise Schools Trustee Shiva Rajbhandari was similarly rebuked by his board chair for a social media post in which he swore at and threatened Gov. Brad Little for signing a bill that banned gender-affirming care for transgender minors. 

And earlier this month, two West Bonner trustees were recalled by voters after a controversial decision to hire Branden Durst as superintendent, even though he lacked the required qualifications. 

These unusual checks on trustee behavior and decisions come as school board races are becoming increasingly competitive and politicized. 

Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on September 20, 2023