By Adam Strunk
Hesston High School Principal Ty Rhodes will be suspended for two months after a vote to fire him failed 2-4.
Such was the climax of another three-hour Hesston Board of Education meeting Monday night, two-thirds of which was spent in executive session discussing personnel matters.
To catch everyone up, Rhodes stands accused of throwing an aluminum bat through the window of a truck driven by Hesston High School students in late September. The incident served as the catalyst for investigations by law enforcement and the Hesston School District into Rhodes’s behavior.
On Oct. 5, the district acknowledged it was investigating an incident involving an employee when asked for comment about the Rhodes investigation by Harvey County Now.
On Oct. 5 and 6, the BOE conducted interviews of those involved and debated the matter last week, holding at least six hours of executive sessions.
On Oct. 7, the district issued a statement saying the employee subject to its investigation would continue to be employed and that the district was thankful the students were not harmed in the incident.
On Oct. 13, the district stated that after reading news reports and experiencing community reaction, it wished to clarify its past statement, saying that it found no fault with the students who were inside the truck. The statement asked the media and the community to respect everyone involved in the situation’s privacy.
Shortly before the BOE’s Oct. 13 meeting, Board President Layne Frick and Rhodes attended a meeting with the parents of those involved. Frick explained the meeting gave Rhodes a chance to speak with those parents when later questioned about the purpose of the meeting.
The regular BOE meeting followed, in which John Waltner, former long-time Hesston Mayor and county administrator, called out the board of education for its lack of transparency and hesitancy to address the incident or the community’s questions.
He said he worked in local government for over 35 years, and that during that time, he learned that transparency is important and “a shroud of silence will fray and even destroy trust.”
He said he found the incident extremely concerning.
“Most people would seriously question the judgment of an adult who lies in wait, armed with a metal baseball bat, with the apparent intent of striking a moving vehicle on the streets of Hesston, Kan.,” he said.
He said the board needed to understand that their actions open them and the district up to heightened liability. He added that how the board currently handled the issue did not come close to measuring up to the standards that USD-460 citizens expect and deserve.
“That there was no timely explanation or apology to those who might have been injured or the community is baffling,” he said.
The board took the commentary and moved on to regular business and then multiple executive sessions and extensions to discuss confidential personnel matters.
While BOE meetings are open to the public by law, the law allows the BOE to choose to discuss maters pertaining to personnel privately.
Two hours of private meeting followed until the board returned to the public meeting and took up a motion around 10 p.m.
That motion, as stated, was to terminate Rhodes based on the incident that occurred Sept. 27, 2020.
Board Members Zach Weaver and Delvin Wohlgemuth voted in favor of termination.
Board Members Layne Frick, Mike Weber, Susan Rostetter and Phil Diller voted against.
The board then took up a motion to suspend Rhodes with pay for 60 days, based on the incident. The motion passed 6-0.
Board Member Susan Lamb was not in attendance.
As for where the criminal case goes, Harvey County Now spoke with Assistant County Attorney Jason Lane last week, and his office had yet to receive the case from the sheriff’s office. It reached out again Tuesday morning for an update, but Lane was in court.
The sheriff’s office was handling the case, as the Hesston Police Department deferred to prevent the appearance of a conflict of interest. One of the high school students in the truck was the son of a Hesston City employee. Another was the son of a Hesston School District administrator.
Harvey County Now reached out to Sheriff Chad Gay on Monday for an update on the investigation but has yet to hear back.
Of note, during the course of following these developments in Hesston, Harvey County Now has contacted the Rhodes family as well as a number of families of students involved, requesting comment and explanation.
This story will be updated when more information becomes available.