As The Valley Reporter goes to press on June 23, members of the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board were meeting to discuss a schedule on how to bring a bond to voters in November and also to consider a motion to rescind its earlier decision to conduct an investigation into the firing of hockey coach Jacob Grout in February. Grout was fired by administrators after parents complained about the coach using profanity in a communication to players.
Last Wednesday, June 16, the board held its first in-person meeting since the start of the pandemic and it was to discuss the Grout issue with HUUSD superintendent Brigid Nease and Harwood administrators in executive session. The board met in executive session for about an hour and took no action when members returned to open session.
This week the board was slated to discuss its investigation into how Grout was fired in executive session as well, but on Tuesday afternoon board chair Torrey Smith and Tim Jones, vice chair, sent an updated leadership report to the board with the following proposed as a motion:
“In the matter of the termination of the boys’ hockey coach, the board concludes that the principals, athletic director and superintendent operated within their statutory authority regarding at-will employees. It is the administrators’ responsibility to make these kinds of employment and hiring decisions. The board rescinds its earlier decision to conduct an investigation into the matter.”
The updated leadership report notes that the board’s attorney advised members that Vermont law gives principals the authority to terminate at-will employees.
“By that logic, there is really no reason for the school board to be actively involved in this matter -- it is clear that the principals and superintendent have the authority to both hire and fire at-will employees,” Smith and Jones wrote.
“On the other hand, the board has heard many complaints from members of our community who feel that firing the coach was an over-reaction. One of the hardest aspects of personnel matters is the privacy they require; ultimately very few people will truly know what occurred in a given situation. This is a deeply unsatisfying state for those who care about the individuals involved, as well as for those who may be affected by the outcomes. We have heard concern, frustration and even pain from students, families and community members around this particular case,” they continued.
In terms of the bond, the board will discuss using one meeting in August and three September meetings to determine the cost and scope of the bond, which recent estimates had at some $53 million. To bring a bond to voters in November, the board has to complete its work by September 15 so that the warning for the bond can be posted.
The schedule that Smith and Jones detailed has the board meeting on August 24 for a presentation on the cost and scope of the bond and a discussion of what to include in the bond as well as a community engagement plan with an eye to approve the community engagement plan that night.
The bond schedule calls for a September 8 meeting to narrow the scope of the bond with a September 15 meeting to approve the warning for the bond.
Finally, the board subcommittee tasked with finding a contractor to conduct a search for a new superintendent met on June 18 and selected McPherson and Jacobson to undertake the work. Nease’s contract was extended until June 2022. The cost of search contract will be $10,900 to $14,050.