About 100 local residents, including a large contingent of teachers in the Litchfield Education Association, attended a special meeting of the Litchfield School Board on Wednesday evening, Oct. 3.
Due to the anticipated large crowd, the meeting was moved from the Radius Room at Litchfield High School to the Litchfield Middle School gym. All seven school board members were in attendance, as well as Superintendent Debbie Poffinbarger and Barney Mundorf, who serves as legal counsel for the district.
Upon opening the meeting Board President Jennifer Reid said that anyone who wished to address the board had to fill out a form, which was provided at the meeting. Three forms were presented. Reid read a list of rules for public input at the meeting, and encouraged speakers to be brief and respectful.
Up first was former Litchfield School Board President Jeff Helgen, who told the board he understood what a difficult job they had to do. He also noted that many in the crowd were there in support of LHS Principal Doug Hoster, who has been on administrative leave since Thursday, Sept. 13, amid allegations of misconduct.
Hoster himself was not at the meeting, as he has been banned from school grounds, but maintains the allegations against him are "embellished or flat-out made up."
Helgen encouraged the board to go back and review board policy and procedures on a regular basis, and said that training is also available for board members.
"The biggest interest in the community tonight is targeted employees, and Mr. Hoster is just the latest," Helgen said. "Board members must have no hidden agendas. It creates a hostile work environment and could lead to lawsuits."
Helgen added that he felt the community had lost confidence in both the school board and the superintendent.
"Past school boards have spent many years building up a top team for our district, and we are losing very good, seasoned people," he told the board.
He said he feared they would also lose top recruits and future prospects.
"I think we're all here in support of Mr. Hoster," said Helgen in conclusion, and he received a large round of applause from the audience, which included several high school students.
The next person who asked to address the board was Dr. Denise Bader of Litchfield, who said she wished to speak on topics unrelated to Mr. Hoster. She said she was appalled at the amount of bullying and racism going on at the middle school and the high school, and felt that certain teachers were ignoring the issues.
"Who will speak for our children?" she asked the board. "I will. Enough is enough."
The last person who asked to speak was Scott Schmidt, who also asked to speak in support of Doug Hoster. He said his daughter, Sarah, dealt with debilitating migraines, and he always had a good experience working with the principal.
"He always told me that his number one goal was preparing students in high school for college and life," Schmidt said. "He also told me that he had 400 students to look after, and he wanted to make sure he treated them equally and fairly. I think he's the finest principal we've had in some time. If we lose him, it will be a really sad day."
Following the public input portion, the board moved into closed session, after spending 13 minutes in open session. They would spend nearly an hour and a half in closed session, and upon returning to open session, voted directly to adjourn the meeting.