The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board will reconsider its decision to launch an investigation into the termination of Jacob Grout, former Harwood Union High School (HUHS) boys’ varsity hockey coach. On May 12, a vote to reconsider the investigation passed 60.10% to 21.55%, with eight board members voting in favor of reconsidering the investigation, three voting against it, and two abstaining. This vote does not mean the board has officially canceled the investigation. Rather, it means that the board will make an official decision on whether or not to cancel the investigation at its next meeting on May 26.
This started on February 17, 2021, when Grout was fired after the HUUSD administration discovered that Grout had texted his players a profanity-laden message containing complaints about parent interference with coaching.
Many community members, Grout included, feel that the termination was unfair. Grout himself noted that the administration fired him without ever reading the full text message, which was largely positive and motivational.
Thus, on April 28, after over 1,300 community members signed a petition asking that the school administration reinstate Grout, the school board voted to launch an investigation into Grout’s termination.
Many board members thought hiring a third-party investigator would be the best way to resolve the conflict, seeing as a third-party investigation would provide unbiased, in-depth fact finding while preserving the privacy of everyone involved. However, the investigation is problematic in one significant way: It costs money.
On May 12, HUUSD principals came before the school board pleading for the board to cancel the investigation. At the May 12 meeting, principals referred to a letter signed by all HUUSD principals and several HUUSD administrators, asking that the board reconsider its recent decision to contract an independent investigation of the termination of Grout.
“We do not believe an investigation of this nature will bring closure or healing to this topic, but will instead prolong the issue at significant expense to our taxpayers,” said the letter. “An investigation of this nature not only signals a lack of faith in the administration, but draws district resources, in the form of time and money, from other important work before us.”
The letter pointed out how much the investigation would cost. “Will the board now be willing to pay $20,000 to $30,000 for the independent investigation of disciplinary action of any at-will employee?”
In addition to costing taxpayers extra money, the investigation would only undermine confidence in the school administration, principals argued. “We offer that questioning a decision regarding the employment of an at-will employee, or any employee for that matter, does not support our standing in the community, but rather undermines trust in our administration and in our schools,” they wrote.
School board members spoke out in response to this letter at the May 12 meeting. Marlena Fishman, Waterbury, wanted to know how the board could pursue the issue without costing taxpayers extra money.
GATHER MORE INFORMATION
Jonathan Clough, Warren, suggested that the board gather more information from administrators to see if they would be interested in a public hearing on the issue, rather than an investigation.
Theresa Membrino, Fayston, held fast to her stance on the necessity of an investigation. “I actually think the investigation is a defense of our administrative team,” she said. “With the number of signatures that were out there, it is an opportunity to clean out the air, which is why I voted for it. It’s an opportunity for the admin team to prove that they did it all right.”
Jonathan Young, Warren, who abstained from the vote to reconsider the investigation, explained his ambivalence. “It is a difficult situation,” said Young. “For me, I felt like throwing it away and saying there is nothing to talk about wasn’t the right answer. But I don’t feel that great about a costly investigation either.”
Young voted in favor of the investigation in the first place, because he saw it as a learning opportunity for the board and the administration. “I just want to get all out there so we can see what happened and why. If there are lessons to be learned on either side of the coin, let’s learn them! Let’s make better policies so we don’t come across this again.”