The Jordan School District has found that deception weaves a web that can get awfully tangled, making an unfortunate situation worse for everybody.
The Jordan Board of Education has voted to uphold a decision of a disciplinary committee to expel five Hillcrest High School football players for their part in an apparent hazing incident.Whether or not the decision is the correct one is difficult to determine, since no details of the incident have been provided by the board or district and school administrators.
That refusal to say what actually happened has fueled rumors and has denied patrons of the schools their right to know and understand how the district's policy works and what behaviors are considered punishable by expulsion.
Reporters were not told the truth by an attorney for the district. That and a weeklong delay in announcing the board's decision - combined with the original lack of disclosure - have only made the situation worse for everyone involved.
The board met Sept. 24 and came to a decision to uphold the expulsions, but reporters and parents of the expelled boys were told by the district's attorney for several days afterward that no decision had been made.
Reporters were also told no announcement about the decision would be made public, despite the fact the school board is an elected body and subject to the state's open-meetings law which states that the board must vote in public. Students and teachers said they had been warned not to talk about the incident.
Last week, the district's attorney said state and federal privacy laws superseded the state open-meetings law, but Monday he admitted the privacy law does allow the decision to be made public as long as the students involved are not identified.
The district has unnecessarily prolonged the situation and antagonized all parents and students involved. Obviously, the students' behavior warranted punishment. Actions that violate a person's right to dignity must not be allowed. But once the incident was reported and action taken, school and district officials had a responsibility to be as open as possible in discussing what happened.
Similar incidents in other districts have been handled effectively without all the secrecy that has bogged down the process in the Jordan District.
Roy Principal Dave Vanden Bosch commented quickly to the media when two senior football players were removed from the team for an incident during summer football camp. Their behavior was described in general terms, and there was little public outcry over the decision.
Highland High School Principal Don Barlow talked about the suspensions of eight students involved in a disturbance in which a firearm discharged at a park near the school. He did not violate the students' privacy rights but did answer questions about the incident and explain the decision to expel.
There is nothing to be gained by trying to keep secret a policy and a process involving such a public institution as a school. Parents and patrons have a right to know how their schools are operating so they can judge whether policies and decisions are appropriate.