A small group of parent and student protesters stand outside the Mary Devin Building Monday in protest of Junction City High School principal Melissa Sharp prior to the Geary County Schools USD 475 Board of Education meeting. The board closed their meeting, after an executive session, announcing the suspension of Sharp until the board takes further action. Dr. Reginald Eggleston said that could be the remainder of the year after the meeting.

“Madam president, I move that we suspend with pay the Junction City High School principal pending further action by the USD 475 Board of Education,” said Geary County Schools USD 475 board of education member Jim Schmidt after 45 minutes of executive session to discuss matters of personnel.

The motion was seconded by David Walker and passed via 7-0 vote from all members.

Board president, Rina Neal, read a prepared statement after the vote was recorded.

“The board of education has thoroughly reviewed the results of an investigation concerning the incident at Junction City High School,” she said. “An acting principal will be appointed at the high school. We will use this as an opportunity to rededicate our efforts to create an inclusive environment for all. We appreciate your support of our students and school district.”

From there the meeting Monday was adjourned.

District Superintendent, Dr. Reginald Eggleston, confirmed after the meeting that the suspension would be a long term suspension and clarified the boards decision.

“Based on the board's decision tonight, it will be for the duration of the year,” he said. “Well, that just basically gives the board ample time to make any future decisions. And at this present moment, consensus was given that that was just the best move to make — under all the circumstances that are before us.”

A group of parents and teachers assembled outside the Mary Devin Building prior to the school board meeting in support of a decision from the district to punish Sharp. Two representatives of the small contingent said this was their way to show support for the student involved and the students who supported her.

“The final straw with the students was the hijab incident,” Danielle Maffei said. “That's when they had enough and that's when we decided as parents, we need to start standing up and doing a better job for our kids — making sure they are in a safe environment. And right now, that's not the case.”

Maffei said, through first hand knowledge, that the school has had other issues raised to administration which weren’t handled, indicating a pattern of bullying and abuse.

“Since students started all this, we've had so many former students, former staff members come forward and share their stories of things they witnessed (and) things done to them,” Maffei said. “We actually have a very close, family friend whose mother pulled her out of the school because she was getting physically assaulted, almost on a daily basis, and the school wouldn't do anything. So, we have firsthand accounts, we have first hand knowledge, along with other people who have shared their stories with us. Unfortunately, those have all been deleted off the Facebook pages.”

The claims will be investigated further by the Union.

The district did remove the official Facebook page of the district Monday. Eggleston said that was a temporary closure of the page.

“At some point in time, it will come up,” he said. “Our communications department will work on that. We definitely want to make sure that we are able to continue communicating effectively with all of our stakeholders. We know that social media is a major means of getting information out. And so, we don't want to handicap ourselves; we definitely want to make sure that we have that up and available for future communications.”

Another page, USD 475 Community, was archived on Sept. 11 with another page, USD 475 Community Parents started on Sept. 13. It is unclear if either is, or was, an official channel from the district.

Eggleston would not confirm if a formal apology would be issued to the student after an email distributed by Sharp after the protest suggested the information passed outside of the school was not correct, should the investigation prove the statements were in fact correct.

“We'll continue down that path to see exactly what else comes up,” he said. “At present, I think we will move forward based on the action that the board has taken this evening. If additional actions need to occur, then the board will resume and give that some thought as well.”

How this started

On Oct. 21, a group of nearly 100 JCHS students rallied behind one of their own. A student claimed to have been asked to remove her hijab while passing between classes the day before. When she refused, she was instructed by the hall monitor to report to the principal.

There, according to students familiar with the incident, the student involved was instructed to write about the cultural significance of her hijab.

Sharp sent out an email later in the day in response to the “peaceful protest” by the students and to clarify “the litany of misinformation out in the public and in social media.”

“At no time over the last two days (or ever) was any student asked to remove a hijab from their head,” she wrote. “Under the guidelines of our student information book and current school dress code, it states the following: The school requests that parents or guardians contact their student’s academy administrator when health, medical, or religious reasons require exceptions to the guidelines. This is a common practice at JCHS and has been so for many years.

“At no time over the course of this incident has any student been asked to ‘write an essay’ or ‘defend their religion, (as has been alleged on social media),’” she continued. “The communication that was asked of the student (and the family) was to help the respective administrator communicate the needs of the student to impacted parties (other principals, hall monitors, teachers). The administrator’s goal was for the student not to be questioned by other adults or peers while on campus. The student, the family and the respective administrator have had wonderful, communicative interactions, and continued to do so up until, and even after the protest today. The family and JCHS have worked together collaboratively. This is an important factor for all of you to know.”

Sharp also called the event a “teachable moment for everyone.”

Since the incident, the board of education has met twice in executive sessions lasting several hours each. No decisions were made until Monday’s regular monthly meeting.

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