June 21, 1997 in Nation/World

Union President Claims Harassment Sandpoint Middle School Librarian Angry After District Allows Private Investigator Into Her Office

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The president of the Bonner County teachers’ union says she is being harassed after the district let a private investigator into her office and the locked library at Sandpoint Middle School where she teaches.

Librarian Joan Head never was told about the investigator, why he was in her office, who hired him or what he was looking for.

“I feel my privacy has been violated,” said Head. “I feel the school district is harassing me and trying to intimidate me.”

The odd part about the incident is no one in the school district’s main office seems to know who hired the private investigator, why he was in the school and who gave him permission to be on district property.

Superintendent Max Harrell could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon. He did tell Head and school trustee Jerry Owens, however, that he knew an investigator was in the district.

“He was not aware the two men entered the library,” Head said, adding that Harrell also didn’t know whom the investigator was working for. School board trustee Blaine Stevens said he hasn’t heard about the problem and didn’t know if the district hired the investigator.

“I really don’t know anything about it,” he said Friday.

Embattled special education director Bob Howman and the mystery investigator went to the middle school Wednesday afternoon. They told the assistant principal that Harrell gave them permission to enter the library and asked her to unlock the door.

Head has an office there where she conducts some union business. She said the men “messed” with two typewriters and hovered around her desk and bookshelves. The assistant principal remained in the room until Howman and the investigator left.

Head never was told by administrators about the men rummaging through her classroom. She found out later from someone who was at the school.

“I have a lot of unanswered questions,” Head said. “Why is a private investigator involved in the school district’s business? Who hired the private investigator? Why didn’t someone call me and ask me to come to my office?

“This type of activity is the latest example of the siege mentality that exists in this district. It may be the most blatant example yet,” Head said.

It seems suspicious, Head said, because the teachers and administration have been locked in contract negotiations for more than a year. Harrell and the school board hired a professional negotiation team for $14,500 to deal with the teachers months ago.

Owens was upset no one has answers about why an investigator was on school grounds with a school district employee. Harrell was going to get back with Owens with more information but the two had not talked Friday.

“I want to know why he is here, who is paying him and if it’s the district or a district employee,” Owens said. “Rumors are starting to fly.”

Some have speculated Howman hired the investigator or that a family with a child who was in special education hired the man.

Howman has been in hot water all year. He came under fire for lying to teachers about his background, over-spending his budget and some questionable financial practices in his department.

One of his telephone calls also was tape-recorded and turned over to the state attorney general’s office for investigation.

On the tape Howman was worried about his department’s financial records and wanted to change the books in the central office to match his accounting. Some of the money he was worried about was $91,000 he spent to send one student to a drug treatment center in Montana.

The student’s name was used on the tape and Howman and Harrell said that violated the student’s right to privacy. They said there would be an investigation to find out who recorded the call and made it public.

“I really don’t know what is going on but it’s time for intimidation and harassment to stop. It’s time to create an atmosphere in this school district that allows teachers to teach and students to learn without fear or threats,” Head said.

, DataTimes


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