Principal’s position a matter of principle

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All seems forgiven between West Brunswick High School Principal Brock Ahrens and Brunswick County Schools Superintendent Edward Pruden.

Ahrens rescinded his resignation at Pruden’s request in a choreographed scene during commencement exercises Saturday, June 14, that bore little resemblance to the meeting before the West Brunswick High faculty and staff less than 24 hours earlier.

Ahrens’ resignation came spontaneously during that meeting when Pruden said 18 seniors who met all of the academic requirements but failed to comply with attendance requirements would be allowed to participate in graduation.

While Ahrens, Pruden and the school board may have moved past the disagreement, we cannot for three reasons.

One, no specific attendance goals are outlined in Brunswick County Schools’ graduation requirement policy, which leaves it to the discretion of the principal or his designated committee. Ahrens decided to let the 18 students receive their diplomas, but forbade them from participating in the commencement exercises.

According to the policy, the buck should have stopped with Ahrens. The only reason his decision should have been overturned by either Pruden or the school board is if his action was out of line with district policy. And it was not.

Pruden, with the board’s blessing, failed to let Ahrens act in the students’ best educational interests — the job he was hired to do.

Two, doubt remains as to who ultimately decided to overrule Ahrens: Pruden or the school board. A news release issued by the school system immediately after Ahrens announced his resignation said, “The Brunswick Board of Education determined 18 West Brunswick High School seniors who have met all of the academic requirements for graduation will be allowed to participate in commencement exercises on Saturday, June 14 at 9 a.m.”

No notice about a Brunswick County Board of Education meeting or vote taking place Friday was provided 48 hours in advance, as required by state open meetings and public records laws.

If board members decided to overrule Ahrens, they did so illegally.

Later Friday, the school system’s spokeswoman Jessica Swencki backtracked, saying Pruden polled each of the school board members before he rendered the decision. Pruden and board members Shirley Babson, Catherine Cooke and Bud Thorsen reiterated that notion Saturday.

With the debacle over the school start times schedule still fresh in everyone’s minds, we know Pruden would not have made this decision without input from board members, a fact he has ackowledged.

The poll may not have constituted a vote, but a vote taken after proper public notice would have been far better.

Three, the situation cannot be dismissed as a misunderstanding between family members when tax dollars are involved. Taxpayers expect administrators to be fair to students who achieved academic and attendance goals necessary for graduation.

In this case, Pruden and the board cheated the 287 West Brunswick seniors who met or exceeded these requirements to appease, at the last minute, two sets of parents whose children did not.

This mountaintop experience should not be easily dismissed.