Printed on: April 22, 2014

Longtime science teacher's contract renewed

By KIRSTEN JOHNSON
kjohnson@postregister.com

BLACKFOOT -- Veteran Snake River High School science teacher Elaine Asmus will see another school year -- on probation.

The Snake River School District 52 school board announced Monday its decision to renew Asmus' teaching contract for the 2014-15 academic year provided she's placed on probation for one school year. Dozens attended the special meeting, which lasted just a couple minutes, held in the district's offices.

"I'm very happy and very thankful," Asmus said. "You can't get better students, you can't get better parents or better community support. I stayed here this many years for a reason -- I love this place. I like to think I can teach anywhere I want, I can go anywhere and live anywhere I want, and this is where I chose."

The probation is in response to several violations of board policies and the Idaho Code of Professional Ethics for Professional Educators, according to a district news release. Violations included "action taken ... determined to be disrespectful, professionally or personally harmful to a teacher, administrator or staff member" and failing to "carry out ... responsibilities and assignments with professionalism."

The board determined, however, Asmus had not violated its harassment policy. The decision came after extensive discussion, board chairman Wally Aldous said.

"We spent days on this -- we didn't take it lightly," Aldous said. "We never said this wasn't a good teacher. We came to this because it was filed and once it comes to us and it's been filed, we have to go to due process. It was a formality."

The decision followed a due process hearing earlier this month after a formal harassment complaint was filed against Asmus by Laura Gabrylczyk, a teacher at Snake River Junior High School. Because Gabrylczyk is wife of the district's superintendent, the matter was ultimately turned over to the district's attorney, Bryce Lloyd. After investigation, Lloyd recommended to the board Asmus' contract not be renewed alleging Asmus had harassed, bullied and intimidated other teachers in the science department over a number of years.

In the days leading up to the hearing, thousands -- including many former students -- rallied together through Facebook in support of Asmus. Hundreds attended the hearing which stretched 14 hours over two days. The board detailed its decision in a findings of fact, conclusions and decision report released Monday.

"The Board does not doubt that Ms. Asmus was a significant causative factor for the dysfunctional environment in the Science Building," the report states. "Nevertheless, the Board is disturbed by the apparent lack of efforts to resolve the problems through intervention, informal disciplinary action or other measures short of non-renewal or termination of her teaching contract."

Aldous said details of Asmus' probation will be determined at an upcoming meeting with high school principal Ed Jackson.

Reporter Kirsten Johnson can be reached at 542-6757.