It’s Time for Accountability

The Editorial Board

On Aug. 7, senior Veronika Gliwa spent the night in shock, pouring through a 1036-page document detailing allegations of harassment between former Principal Dr. Lauren Fagel and staff members, and text chains filled with what she saw as degrading comments about the events of the past few school years. This document was released through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and included text messages from an Administrative Council group chat, emails of correspondence between Superintendent Dr. Charles Johns and an unnamed correspondent regarding workplace harassment, and other communications between South staff members.

Students and staff have been left confused and betrayed by their former principal’s alleged words and actions, and healing has proved difficult as many members of the administration have still not taken accountability for their actions. 

Gliwa had previously praised the administration for the variety of mental health resources they offer; however, her warm feelings soon turned cold as she read through the FOIA.

“I was completely shocked and I didn’t really feel as though there was much care for the well-being of students,” Gliwa said. “It was weird to me because I know that the school tries to do a lot to help their well-being. What’s missing is the genuineness of it.”

And Gliwa was not alone- 33 percent of students’ trust in the administration decreased, according to a nonscientific survey of 394 students conducted by The Oracle.

In order to heal the mistrust produced at South, the Editorial Board urges the administration to directly address the FOIA, and have individuals’ in the administration apologize to the Glenbrook community.

While 50 percent of students at South do trust in the administration, while the other 50 percent does not, according to a nonscientific survey of 394 students conducted by The Oracle. 

While the impact of the FOIA reached all corners of the Glenbrook community, Matthew Whipple, Social Studies instructor and president of the Glenbrook Teachers’ Association, explained that the released documents especially affected teachers, who had built professional relationships with Fagel. 

“You know, in all the years that [Fagel] was here, I enjoyed her leadership,” Whipple said. “I felt like teachers, including myself, believed that she had our backs. I think she cared and was passionate about students. So what role did all of this [FOIA] material  play, and how was it processed?” This led to confusion regarding the  information in the released text messages and emails, according to Whipple. 

“Today, it seems like some of [the] FOIA has been caught up in more of a culture war,” Whipple said. “‘I’m going to find out what this [person] said about this person or that [group]. And that’s kind of new territory.’”

Despite the lack of context, Gliwa said that damaging statements made in the FOIA should be addressed, and the people who made degrading comments should recognize the importance of a public statement.

“If you do something and mess up and it affects a large number of individuals, you should understand that you should say sorry and try to redeem yourself and fix what you destroyed,” Gliwa said.

Senior at South, Jack Hansen echoed Gliwa, and emphasized how an apology could be beneficial to the Glenbrook community.

“Having the people who made disparaging comments about students, faculty members, and parents come forth publicly and address [the FOIA is] something I think a lot of people would appreciate,” Hansen said.

The Editorial Board would like to commend the actions the administration has already taken and recognize the limitations of transparency. However, we implore our district’s leadership to take accountability for comments in the FOIA  through a public apology.

Johns detailed some of the actions the administration is already taking to ensure improved communication throughout South. In fact, the administration began to make these changes at the beginning of summer, before the FOIA regarding Fagel’s departure had been made public.

“We are continually striving for improved communications,” Johns said. “As a result, we have worked throughout the summer to review and improve our communications plans.” 

Some of these changes include: additional information in Weekly Updates, including Board of Education briefs; a monthly Superintendent’s video regarding goals and operations as well as student and program highlights; and redesigning the website to improve the search function, include more robust information, and improve transparency.

These changes are certainly a step in the right direction, according to Daniel Zapler, Social Studies teacher, who had not heard of the changes Johns detailed previously. 

“I think it’s a good start,” Zapler said. “We should see how [these changes work] at making GBS a better school, and then maybe revisit potential changes down the road after we’ve incorporated these.”

Hansen and Gliwa had also not heard about the administration’s changes, but similarly commended them. However, both agreed that there was more that needed to be done.

“I don’t really feel like the school did as much as they should have to properly address the situation,” Hansen said. “It really felt like they slapped a BandAid on a gushing wound.”