Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Board members want more transparency


Faced with several instances of arrests of school employees in the last several years, Hillsboro School District officials weigh a delicate balance of proper communications to parents and the public, while following protocol on maintaining employee confidentiality.

After the high profile arrest in May of Liberty High School social studies teacher Gregg Jensen, 54, on multiple counts of sex abuse involving a female student, two members of the school board brought their concerns to the table last month at a school board work session.

Board members Glenn Miller and Janeen Sollman — both of whom have a student attending Liberty High School — expressed concern and frustration surrounding communication of the Jensen arrest.

In the case of Jensen’s arrest, Miller said, “my daughter and all of her friends knew in shocking detail” information about the case.

“They were telling me details that I [as a school board member who was briefed on the situation] didn’t even know,” he said.

Miller’s concern focuses around how to control the “rumor mill” that inevitably churns in such situations.

“The rumor mill was alive and active,” Miller said. “I’m telling parents, ‘I don’t have an issue with how they [the school district administration] handled it.’ I trust my superintendent.”

Instead, Miller believes proper communications and the “quelling of rumors” is best handled at the individual school level. Improving communications, he said, should come from within the school. The “culture” of the school and student body needs to be more respectful, he added.

As a school board member, Sollman has fielded complaints from parents and staff members at Liberty High about the school’s and district administration’s response to the Jansen arrest.

“The public’s perception,” she said, “is horrible.”

Sollman would like to see school district officials address incidents head on and with more transparency.

“Saying there was an issue or incident doesn’t mean ‘shame on you, school district,’” Sollman said. “The district errs on the side of being too cautious. By not saying something, it’s not like it’s not happening.”

In fact, she believes just the opposite is true.

“By saying something, it says we’re aware,” she said. “It says that safety and security is our priority.”

According to school district communications director Beth Graser, every situation “has its own nuances. That’s what makes it so difficult.”

Graser said administrators mull questions such as how and when to make a statement.

“Is it out of place to talk about this? If we use the auto-dialer [phone system], will it create panic? If we send out written communication, will it reach everybody?” Graser asked.

In the case of Jensen, Graser said, the police investigation was ongoing and Hillsboro Police Department officials specifically asked the district not to make a public statement.

“We asked the police [if the school district could issue a statement on Jensen’s arrest] and they said, ‘I wish you wouldn’t,’” Graser explained. “The last thing we’d want to do is anything that would interfere with the investigation.”

Miller agreed.

“Whatever the situation, it’s very difficult to make the call,” he said. “I do believe they [the district administrators] are learning from every situation.”

Sollman’s frustrations are not limited to this most recent incident.

Several years ago, she said, a student was taken out of Liberty High on a stretcher by emergency medics. The student, Sollman said, was conscious but was sickened from taking prescription drugs. “He was embarrassed, so he pulled the sheet over his head,” Sollman said.

Within minutes, Sollman said, there were photos on Facebook and Twitter and false claims the student had died. The staff at the high school, she added, did not know what was going on.

“The staff needs to be alerted to these situations,” Sollman said. “Similarly, parents and students need more information.”