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More testimony against Palmerton HS principal

Published December 06. 2018 12:35PM

An elementary principal, high school teacher, and director of curriculum, instruction and technology were the latest Palmerton Area School District employees to testify Wednesday in a dismissal hearing for suspended high school Principal Paula Husar.

S.S. Palmer and Parkside Elementary Principal Mary Brumbach detailed her once strong relationship with Husar, who is fighting to keep her job after Superintendent Scot Engler sought her dismissal on over 20 charges handed down in September 2017.

“We had a great relationship when (Husar) started in 2012,” Brumbach told the school board, who would ultimately determine Husar’s fate. “We had dinner together, and we talked on the phone, sometimes daily.”

Over time, Brumbach continued, she distanced herself from Husar, stating that she “no longer trusted her.”

“I witnessed her saying one thing to one person and one thing to another person,” Brumbach said. “I wasn’t comfortable with that. It became very apparent she was undermining not just Mr. Engler, but also other people in the district.”

One of the charges levied against Husar is that she “made a false claim that Engler yelled at her and pounded his chest during an administrative meeting.”

In 2015, Engler recommended the dismissal of Brumbach based on charges of falsified fire drill paperwork.

“Even through all of that,” Brumbach testified Wednesday, “Mr. Engler never shouted or yelled at me. He was in the process of terminating me and never once raised his voice.”

Husar’s lawyer, Mark Bufalino, questioned Brumbach on whether the two simply had a difference of opinion on certain things. He also asked whether Brumbach knew of state test scores drastically improving at the high school during Husar’s tenure as principal there?

“I am,” Brumbach answered.

Tom Smelas, a high school teacher and teachers’ union president, testified regarding a charge that Husar “fabricated a narrative from a district magistrate that a special needs student be removed from a teacher’s classroom.”

According to Smelas, the female student was in his class and went before the magistrate on a truancy issue. Husar attended the hearing, he said, and reported to him that the magistrate’s directive was to remove the student from his classroom during that period.

“The student was put into the high school guidance browsing room,” Smelas testified. “I was instructed to make sure the student receive daily assignments, receive the assignments back and grade them. Mrs. Husar told the guidance counselors to make sure the student was monitored.”

Moving students from a classroom to the guidance browsing room wasn’t a common practice, Smelas added.

Through his questioning, Bufalino indicated the student told the magistrate the reason she wasn’t coming to school is “because Smelas was mean and frequently yelled at her,” and that the student’s parents signed off on a change to her individualized education plan.

Smelas also testified that despite their often-opposing stances on issues, he has never heard Engler yell at Husar or any other Palmerton employee.

Earlier in the night, Dan Heaney, Palmerton’s director of curriculum, instruction and technology wrapped up testimony largely centered on a time period he was asked by Engler to be Husar’s direct supervisor.

During that time, a field trip took place when five high school students separated from a group during a trip to Maple Grove Raceway for around 20 minutes.

Heaney testified that there was concern there may have been drug use during the time period they were away.

Bufalino argued that all of Heaney’s questions after the incident centered on Husar’s handling of the situation and the teachers on the trip received no punishment.

“That would have been on Mrs. Husar to do that,” Heaney said. “She was their supervisor.”

In Husar’s report on the incident, Heaney testified, she never indicated that she directed the teachers to do something while they were still on the field trip.

“The teachers asked about whether they could do a search when they got back to the school,” Bufalino said, “and Mrs. Husar tried to impart some common sense and said, by the time they get back here, anything would likely be gone.”

No future dates have been scheduled for the hearing’s continuation, but Bufalino pushed Wednesday for a quickening of the pace.

“This has been going on almost a year and my client and I are committed to doing anything we can to get to the finish line,” he said.

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