MIDDLETON, Idaho — Dozens of Middleton high school students - many carrying signs and chanting "Bring back Ben!" - marched in support of dismissed principal Benjamin Merrill on Monday night, in an effort to get him reinstated.
The students, and some parents, marched from Ridley's to the middle school, where Monday night's school board meeting was being held. The students held signs reading "Save our Captain", "March for Merrill" and "I stand with Ben."
Students also had a petition with 487 student signatures to try and convince the board to reinstate Merrill. The board voted last week in an executive session to not renew Merrill's contract for next year.
At the board meeting Monday night, Middleton Mayor Darin Taylor opened the meeting by asking the public to keep things orderly - unlike last week's school board meeting, where things got heated and community members were upset.
“This is a wonderful process and it must be orderly," Taylor said. "Disorderly conduct is actually a violation of the city code."
Taylor also explained that a public meeting was not the same thing as a public hearing - so without the board chairman's approval, public comment is not taken at regular public meetings.
“Those in attendance at a public meeting – which we’re at tonight - have a right to observe, to watch, to be here, to listen – not to participate,” Taylor said.
He said anyone in attendance who violated the city code for disorderly conduct would be fined.
Before the board got started, there was a motion to approve the agenda. One board member, Marianne Blackwell, made a motion to amend the agenda.
“With the outpouring of support and 500 signatures, I’d ask that we put on the agenda to reinstate Mr. Merrill as principal,” Blackwell said.
That proposal was met with cheers from the audience, most of which were Middleton students.
However, there was no second from the other board members so the motion died.
After taking care of a few other matters of business, the board adjourned.
Students who spoke with KTVB after the board meeting said they were disappointed Mr. Merrill was not reinstated at the meeting, but several said they'll keep doing what they can to help their principal.
After the meeting, board chairman Tim Winkle sent a statement explaining that in regards to Merrill, the board has some legal constraints they have to follow, which prevents them from telling the public specific details about the investigation into Merrill - and that's why the board can't answer questions or provide much information to the public.
The full statement from Winkle is below:
"One of the challenges school trustees face is the prohibition from publicly sharing some specific information about district employees (and students, too.) Idahoans value privacy protection for individuals so much that Board of Trustees are given the authority to meet in executive session to consider information that exempted from public review.
These protections make what trustees can share about personnel decisions including those this year -- the nonrenewal of the high school principal’s contract, the bullying and harassment complaints against the administration, and other matters – very limited. That’s frustrating for me as a trustee because I can’t share the details that informed decisions made by the Board. I also understand that the absence of details allows rumors to swirl and is maddening for those who disagree with decisions made.
I can share the Board works closely with its legal counsel on these matters and weighs considerable information that is not available for public review. I am also grateful that these decisions are not made by a single individual, but rather a group where a majority must agree.
Working with our legal counsel, the Board ensured that an independent third party investigated the complaints from the high school principal regarding the district administration. The Board did that at great expense but a necessary one. I want to thank those who questioned specific costs, and I’m asking for reductions.
It is my hope that explaining limitations placed on trustees will help aid the understanding of why answers can not be as forthcoming as many would like.
Now, I’m imploring our community for your help. Our district’s success depends on all the adults in our students’ lives engaging in civil discourse, especially when we disagree.
This year, we’ve faced unusual challenges. Our task, now, is to set aside the rancor that divides and embrace what makes Middleton a great place for families – adults who unite around a common mission to ensure every child is learning every day. Thank you for your attention to this message
and for your commitment to our kids."