Hearing continues in Palmerton termination case against Husar
A Palmerton Area High School math teacher testified Thursday night that she felt “stalked” by a principal now suspended without pay.
Pamela Wuest, a teacher for 33 years, told Palmerton school board members she also feared for her job after Paula Husar allegedly walked into her classroom 21 times in 12 days, staying for a few minutes each time.
The testimony was part of a continued dismissal hearing for Husar, whose termination was recommended by Superintendent Scot Engler in September 2017.
According to Thursday’s dialogue, the issue between Wuest and Husar started in early November 2016 when Husar and then guidance counselor Bryna Witkowski met with Wuest about complaints from students and parents.
“They said they were told I made an assignment to my Algebra 3/Trigonometry class and then told them to go figure it out on their own,” Wuest said. “They referenced a packet that I was never shown. I had to deduce that it was a couple of work sheets, not even a graded piece of work, that was a way for me to see where the class was as we finished one lesson and prepared to start another one.”
Wuest denied telling students to “figure it out on their own” and also said Husar never identified the students or parents who made the complaints.
“I had to guess who they were and then I would get a head nod,” she said.
In the weeks following that meeting, Wuest said, is when the walk-throughs by Husar started.
“Walk-throughs are something that happens maybe once or twice a school year,” she said. “I started feeling uneasy when this was happening every day. I felt like I was being stalked and wondered if something was happening with my job.”
Husar’s attorney, Mark Bufalino, said the complaints pertaining to Wuest included that she yelled at students and wouldn’t help them.
“Given that, wouldn’t it be normal for a principal to visit the classroom to see if those things were in fact happening?” Bufalino said. “If (Husar) stayed for only a couple minutes each time, that is very minuscule when you think about it.”
While Wuest said Husar never followed up with her following the walk-throughs, Bufalino indicated there would be later testimony that numerous meetings occurred to discuss the complaints.
“Upper-level math teachers are often complained about,” Wuest said. “When things get difficult, the students who are struggling will blame the teacher. It is common.”
In addition to Wuest’s allegations of multiple Husar visits to her classroom, she also testified Thursday that the principal once drove past her Mahoning Valley home.
“I live in a remote area and saw her drive by past my home very clearly and plainly,” Wuest said.
Wuest wrote a letter to district human resources Director Tom McLaughlin in August 2017, outlining her concerns over the classroom visits, some of which she said occurred during her prep period when no students were present.
Asked why she waited so long and why she didn’t confront Husar directly, Wuest said in hindsight she probably should have taken a different approach.
“I didn’t trust having a private one-on-one conversation with her, but I probably should have taken my concerns to the teachers union president and addressed it from there,” she said.
Following Wuest’s testimony, the board heard from Dan Heaney, Palmerton’s director of curriculum, instruction and technology.
He testified about a letter he wrote when he was Husar’s direct supervisor regarding her handling of an incident during a field trip to Maple Grove Raceway.
According to Heaney, Husar violated policy by giving confiscated tobacco back to a student.
During the field trip, two teachers called back to the school to report that a group of students had gone missing for around 20 minutes and were acting differently, very energetic, upon their return.
“(Husar) didn’t search three of the five students involved, including one that had a previous drug-related incident,” Heaney said.
He added that there was no disciplinary action.
“It undermined the teachers’ authority,” Heaney said, “especially when the disrespect from the students was so severe.”
Heaney will remain a witness when the hearing continues on Wednesday with cross-examination from Bufalino.