by Jim Boyle
The same day Reid Sagehorn started attending a new high school, supporters of the former Rogers Royal went to bat for him one more time.
It was not a concerted show of support during the school day, which students had previously tried. It was not at the Rogers High School Fieldhouse, where students protested the captain of the basketball team’s removal from school. Nor was it more posts to fuel an online petition to restore his enrollment, which has garnered more than 4,800 supporters to date.
It was at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Elk River Area School Board — the first chance to publicly address the Elk River Area School Board since the furor began over a two-word online message by the popular and successful student, athlete and member of the school’s National Honor Society.
“I come here with a lot of emotions,” said Larry Simpson, a Rogers resident of 18 years and parent of four children. “I’m angry at some level. I’m sad. But mostly I am confused. I don’t know how we got to this point. By most standards, things could have been handled differently and none of us would be here right now.”
According to the petition on change.org, Sagehorn was suspended until April 22.
The overflow crowd also included dozens of teachers and administrators who were there to show support for Rogers High School and its administration.
B.J. Brent, a Rogers High School teacher and coach, called the ordeal a difficult and challenging disruption. “Our entire staff has taken a demoralizing hit, one staff member in particular more so than the rest,” he said.
He spoke about “the world class education” offered at Rogers High School and the community of Rogers being named by Business Week as the best place to raise kids in the state due in part to public school performance.
He spoke specifically about test scores on the ACT test, Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments and AP exams as well as graduation rates and the percentage of students who go onto college. He also addressed results on the MMR, which ranks schools on academic growth, efforts to close the achievement gap, graduation rate and test scores. Rogers High School ranks fifth in the state.
Eight people spoke during open forum, including a school district attorney who went last and reiterated what School Board Chairwoman Jane Bunting had said.
“The board cannot discuss private educational data in a public meeting,” Attorney Amy Mace said.
As expected, some speakers came to voice their displeasure for what they see as unjust punishment.
“We are talking about a 17-year-old boy who made an impulsive decision that we make even as adults,” said Shanna Eicher, the parent of a Rogers High School senior. “I feel like the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.”
Mark Eidem, a Rogers resident with two boys at Rogers High School called it an overreach of disciplinary action. “Both (Sagehorn and the teacher) continue to get drug around in this, maybe because of stubbornness, arrogance or shame from this poor decision,” he said, asking that district leaders admit the situation wasn’t handled right. “It’s not about who is right,” Eidem said. “It’s about what is right.”
Not everyone was questioning the administration’s handling of Sagehorn, who allegedly authored the two-word tweet in response to a post that asked if he had ever kissed with a teacher and implicated himself and the teacher, setting off both school and police investigations. The police investigation ruled out that anything romantically took place between the Sagehorn and the teacher, and the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has decided not to charge him with criminal defamation.
Sagehorn has said his tweeted response was sarcastic and not intended cast dispersions on the teacher. But it did.
Bill Hjertstedt, the president Elk River Education Association, came out to speak on behalf of the 850-plus member teachers’ union.
“I’m speaking in support of the teacher who has had her world turned upside down by a comment made on social media,” he told the board. “The teachers appreciate that the administration has taken these allegations seriously and for the support they have given to our member during this difficult time.”
Hjertstedt said despite some reports in the media that the teachers union helped in the disciplinary process, the union has not had input.
“Discipline is solely the responsibility of the school district,” Hjertstedt said. “However, we know the administration has the very important responsibility of maintaining a safe and orderly environment for staff and students. The community should be comforted to know they take this responsibility seriously.”
Hjertstedt said his organization takes accusations seriously, too. “They have real consequences, even if they’re false,” he said. “They can cause tremendous harm to a teacher’s reputation and have the potential to be career-ending.”
Sagehorn has apologized to the teacher in writing. “I think it’s definitely important that everybody who has heard about the story know how sincerely sorry I am,” he said at a press conference in the office of one of his Minneapolis attorneys.
Attorney Ron Rosenbaum told the ECM-Sun Newspapers on Wednesday that he’s not commenting on the matter at this point in time, and Sagehorn’s father said the same thing. The school district is not talking, either, saying it can’t by law.
“The only exception where the district could release information related to a disciplinary matter is if the parent signed a release authorizing the disclosure of the educational data including documents that had been related to that disciplinary matter,” Mace said during open forum.
The Rogers Police Department continues to investigate the now-defunct private site called Rogers Confessions handled through ask.fm. The department has subpoenaed Twitter to get all the records related to the site that had been up for weeks if not longer.
The school district continues to examine issues related to the site and its coordination.