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Blackfoot teachers say workplace is hostile, district unresponsive

By By Caleb James, Reporter
Published On: Jul 11 2013 10:41:50 PM CDT

Caleb James reports

BLACKFOOT, Idaho -

Our station's own investigation has uncovered a months-long dispute between teachers and their principal at Stalker Elementary School in Blackfoot.
     
Teachers say their boss is abusive.

"We're being bullied because we're women in the workplace," said Stalker 2nd grade teacher Shawna Matsuura.
     
The principal says there's more to it.

All the while, tension builds at the elementary school. The district superintendent told our station on Thursday, he knows about the issue and has for months.

So what's being done to insure the adults can get along and focus on the kids?

Blackfoot District 55 on Thursday afternoon attempted to open a new chapter -- swearing in two new school board members in a ceremony at the district office. The new members take over for Jenny Hong and Scott Reese who resigned earlier in 2013 over a six-figure payout to former superintendent Scott Crane.

As the new board members took their oaths, three Stalker Elementary teachers told our station their workplace has become hostile.

"As you walk through the door it's an uninviting workplace," said Matsuura.
 
Matsuura, 1st grade teacher Virginia Townsend, and 5th grade teacher Amanda Jones, say their workplace is uninviting for one reason: principal Hal Silzly. The group collected 12 signatures from other angry teachers and staff on a petition to have Silzly moved to another building.

"I avoid the office, said Jones. "I don't go there unless I have to."
 
Reporter Caleb James called Silzly on vacation in Hawaii. By phone he said the teacher's claims are retaliation for his efforts to run a tighter ship at the school.

"There are some things they are upset about: denial of personal leave, one teacher was accused this year of sexual harrassment," said Silzly. "I had to look into that, and she didn't care for the way I looked into that, because she got in trouble."

In April the teachers wrote letters to Blackfoot District #55 superintendent Chad Struhs, addressing the tension they say staff suffers under the boss.
     
"We went to the principal and nothing happened," said Matsuura. "So we went to the next higher person, the superintendent, and still nothing happened."

It's one thing Silzly and the teachers seem to agree on; despite asking for mediation from District #55, both sides say nothing has happened. Silzly hired a Blackfoot attorney two months ago to aid in mediation.

The teachers have been asking for dispute resolution since April, and there's a paper trail months-long to prove it.

In June, Jones wrote a letter requesting the group's concerns about their boss be heard in a closed-door executive session. The request was denied.

"Is there some conflict going on? There appears to be," said superintendent Chad Struhs. "We're working to resolve that."
 
Caleb James asked Struhs what's being done to solve the issues at Stalker.

"The timeline I'm presented with is a mid-April, to end of July timeline," said James. "That seems like a long time to get some mediation going."

"Mediation has been ongoing throughout all that time," said Struhs.
 
"But like a question ago you said, 'There appears to be some conflict,' but if there's mediation going on, you know there's conflict," said James.
 
"Right," said Struhs.
       
The teachers were denied a spot on June's board meeting agenda, but they've requested an executive session during July's meeting.

"When they feel it needs to go before the board, the superintendent takes it to the board, which is what is currently happening," said Struhs.

Struhs said a decision about whether or not the teachers will be included on the July 25th agenda has not been made.

As to the big question, is this affecting the kids? Struhs said it's an adult problem, and doesn't seem to be interfering with learning.

The teachers said they leave the issue outside the classroom door.

Silzly's attorney, Bryce Lloyd, offered our station this statement via e-mail:

"Mr. Silzly contacted me 2 months ago concerning the conflict at Stalker Elementary School.  It was his hope that I could assist in mediating following district policy and Idaho State law. Wherein Mr. Silzly is the principal, he has specific duties required of him by the state and the district which he wants to follow and he is looking forward to resolving this matter and have Stalker Elementary begin a wonderful new school year."

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