Palmerton reinstates principal
On the sidelines for a year-and-a-half, Palmerton Area High School Principal Paula Husar will soon be back on the job.
Husar was suspended Sept. 7, 2017, when Palmerton Superintendent Scot Engler recommended her dismissal to the school board and cited over 20 charges against her.
On Tuesday night, the board voted 7-2 to uphold nine months of Husar’s suspension, ending it on June 7, 2018, and reinstating her as principal.
Board members Kathy Fallow and Barry Scherer voted against the suspension.
According to attorney Robert Yurchak, who presided over Husar’s dismissal hearing in front of the board, Palmerton’s administration will be contacting her about when she’ll return to work.
“Mrs. Husar is obviously very happy about the board’s decision to return her to her job as principal,” Husar’s attorney Mark Bufalino said after the decision. “We continue to disagree she should have been disciplined in any manner, but I think the board’s vote tonight says a lot more about Mr. Engler’s actions than it does about Mrs. Husar.”
Engler did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.
Before the board chose to vote on upholding part of Husar’s suspension instead of terminating her, it voted on whether it felt sufficient evidence had been presented to terminate her on eight individual charges.
The closest vote, a 5-4 decision, came on the charge that Husar engaged in persistent negligence in the performance of her duties as outlined in the dismissal charges. On that charge, directors Charles Gildner, Scherer, Tammy Recker, Josh Smale and Josann Harry voted that there was sufficient evidence, while Fallow, Baumgardt, Earl Paules and Sherry Haas disagreed.
Several of the other votes were unanimous in that the entire board felt there was insufficient evidence to terminate Husar. Those charges included that Husar was insubordinate on Sept. 7, 2017, by failing to report to the district office for a Loudermill hearing or to return her district belongings, that Husar caused a serious disruption in the district when she failed to return school property to the administration office and caused rumors and gossip to spread, and that Husar failed to adequately address or inform Engler of ethnicity-based harassment complaints leading to a Pennsylvania Human Relations complaint filed against the district.
On two charges, Scherer was the lone board member to find there was enough evidence for termination. Those charges were that Husar intentionally attempted to discredit Engler by making false and derogatory comments about him, and that Husar failed to comply with a board policy related to field trips and the appropriate number of chaperones.
The lone remaining charge, that Husar harassed and intimidated fellow employees, had a split vote. Scherer, Recker and Harry thought there was enough evidence for that charge to support termination. Smale, Gildner, Fallow, Baumgardt, Haas and Paules did not.
“When you look at the charges that failed tonight,” Bufalino said, “I think it speaks to how hollow they were.”
A majority of the people in attendance Tuesday burst into applause when Husar was reinstated.
“I don’t know why we’re in this position,” resident Doris Zellers said before the vote. “I think there could have been a less costly solution. This truly is not Palmerton’s finest hour.”
Keri Henry called Husar’s situation a travesty, saying the high school has been without its principal long enough.
“This should have never happened to her,” Henry said. “She made a difference to so many kids in the district.”
Following the meeting, however, high school guidance secretary Diane Smelas, who was a district witness during the dismissal hearing, questioned how the working relationship would be with Husar coming back.
“How are our evaluations going to work?” she said. “I know many of you support her, but she was very difficult to work with.”
The dismissal hearing began in late January 2018, with Engler describing an ongoing pattern of behavior leading to a “toxic work environment,” and Husar claiming Engler retaliated against her for an evaluation of him she gave to the school board.
During the hearing, which spanned 15 nights over the course of more than a year, testimony included Husar admitting to giving confiscated tobacco back to a student following a field trip, high school secretary Terri Freed testifying about inconsistent discipline patterns, and Husar being accused of removing a special education student from a high school classroom following a truancy hearing and putting the student in a guidance office conference room, going against what was called for in the student’s individualized education program.
Husar, meanwhile, said in March 2016 she was asked to meet with the school board to discuss Engler’s job performance. Despite assurances to the contrary, she said she was worried what she said would get back to him.
“I knew if I was going to do it that I would be honest, and I knew if I was honest that it might not work out so well for me,” she testified. “I wrestled with it for a while before I finally did it.”
Before meeting with the board about Engler, Husar said she received all fives, the highest score possible, on her evaluation in 2014 when she was principal of the junior and senior high schools.
The hearing concluded on March 26.
“We’ll continue to weigh our options as we go forward, but right now Mrs. Husar is singularly focused on what means most to her, and that is getting back to her job as principal and her dedication to the parents and students of this district,” Bufalino said.