CHURUBUSCO — Bullying continues to be a heated topic at Smith-Green Community Schools.
Last month it was revealed that an investigation had been opened by the Indiana State Police in response to allegations of bullying that had occurred in the middle school boy’s locker room. Then this week it was revealed that Jeremy Nix, prosecutor for Huntington County, was reviewing the information before making a decision is made on whether to file.
The discussion also continued this past week at the school board meeting, and opinions were shared from a variety of perspectives. Many of those comments were a response to a recent petition and comments on social media calling for the removal of Smith-Green Superintendent Dan Hile. This petition has over 400 signatures.
One of those to speak at the school board meeting was the creator of the petition, who said they didn’t start the petition to take down one person but to call for change.
“We want all the boys this (bullying) happened to to be safe. We want the boys doing the bullying to get the punishment they deserve. We want to make sure our children are safe,” they said. “We also want every single adult who had known about the bullying to be held accountable.”
Others in attendance though criticized the conversations happening on social media, as well as the petition itself.
“I know a petition is being brought here tonight to fire and get rid of one man, but I am wondering if ideas and suggestions on how to educate and help our children will be discussed,” they said. “Mental health illness and bullying do not stop after school nor will it be stopped if one man is fired. Our children need to be taught life skills and how to cope and deal with situations. When our children grow up and go out in the world, what will we have taught them? To create a Facebook page and petitions to blame one man for everything? If that is the solution, then our children are being set up for failure. I would like to request mental health counselors be made more readily available and mental health be discussed more freely and openly so the negative stigma can be removed from it.”
Still others in attendance appeared to voice their support for Dr. Hile, and the work he was doing for the schools.
A former staff member said, “Dr. Hile is one of those people that takes the time to listen, to maybe those who saw things differently. It was an honor to work with Dr. Hile over the years.”
Another former staff member said Hile worked with “utmost professionalism” adding “not one time did he waiver from doing the right thing.”
They added, “he has the best interest of students, families and staff of this district in mind.”
Hile did address the community during the board meeting. He said he works to alert parents of what is going on in the schools and why. One of the ways Hile does this is through regular videos on Youtube. He said with this particular issue though it can’t be discussed publicly at this time because of the minors that are involved and the fact that police are investigating.
He asked the public to respect the children and families involved in this situation.
Hile did add he found it disheartening to see and hear the negativity to the children involved in the situation, saying he “can’t make peace with” the sentiment being shared online.
“From my perspective the reason we exist as a school and as a community is to build these kids up, even those who make mistakes. Even the kids who do something they shouldn’t,” he said. “They are going to face their consequences,” he added, “but that will end. Our job is to love those kids, raise those kids and get them back on track.”
Plans are in the works to develop a group made of parents, students and school board members. The purpose is to bring all sides to the table to discuss solutions to fight bullying. Members of the school board shared that 24 applications had been submitted by parents interested in taking part, and that list has been narrowed down to eight. The next step will be to pick dates to meet and begin those discussions.
Last Friday, the school board did issue a formal statement. It read:
“The Smith Green Community School Board is issuing the following response to the junior high school locker room incident and the public comments made at the October 11, 2021 School Board meeting.
“That incident and the subsequent discussion sparked a lot of misinformation and malicious rumors about our students, schools, and community, which must now be addressed accurately. As to the most concerning issue, based on the official investigations, the initial accusations of sexual assault, specifically sodomy, were determined to be unfounded. We must also make clear that Dr. Hile was not involved in the investigation in any way. No one received special consideration in the handling of this incident.
“When building level administrators learned of certain allegations, they promptly reported the incident to law enforcement, as legally required. To avoid any potential conflict of interest, the Indiana State Police conducted the criminal investigation. At the same time, Churubusco Junior-Senior High School administrators conducted a school disciplinary investigation. At the request of the school board, two experienced, well-respected, retired superintendents from outside the area reviewed the investigatory and discipline process. After conducting that audit, those superintendents determined that the process and the punishment imposed were proper, ethical, and appropriate.
“Finally, and without question, we are confident in our district leadership; those leaders have repeatedly proven their academic, financial, and ethical capabilities. Dr. Hile’s work is recognized and respected regionally and nationally. Vindictive social media crusades based on falsehoods, half-truths, and gossip cannot and will not alter our conviction that we have the best team in place to lead our schools.
“As promised, the Board will review policies as they pertain to student conflicts and bullying with the community members selected from the survey. Those people will be notified of the specifics of that review in the near future.
“Now it is time for us to move forward together as a community, making improvements where needed based on facts, not rumor, innuendo, or fabrication. Let us return to being proud of Smith-Green Community Schools and the entire Churubusco community.”