LUSK – Led by incoming Niobrara County High School senior Riley Shaw, students attended the district’s school board meeting on June 22 with the intent of addressing their concerns about Principal Phil Garhart to
The board, however, moved to an executive session to discuss their concerns. Bystanders were excused, leaving students, their parents, board members, Superintendent George Mirich and attorney Mark Hughes, who wasn’t officially hired by the district until later in the meeting to hear the student’s concerns behind closed doors.
Shaw said she understands why the board opted to move to executive session, but she wishes community members who were excused could have heard the student’s concerns.
“[The community] deserves to know what’s going on,” Shaw said. “If the students show up and are upset, then they’re probably upset about the same things.”
Garhart, who was hired as principal in spring 2018, resigned during a special school board meeting July 1. His resignation is effective July 13.
The terms of Garhart’s resignation agreement were not disclosed at the July 1 meeting. Regardless, Shaw said she is happy with the result.
“A lot of us were pretty excited,” Shaw said. “He made the choice to resign, but a lot of us felt as if we had made a difference and helped make that big push.”
Shaw said she and her classmates decided to address the school board after talking with one another in a group chat. While she originally planned to provide a written statement, she said she decided speaking to the board and collecting statements from others would be more effective.
After reaching out to upperclassmen, underclassmen and parents, 21 community members provided statements concerning Garhart’s leadership, some opting to remain anonymous.
“They should not have to go to a school where respect is expected and not returned,” one parent wrote. “The school administration has let these kids down, we need to make this wrong right.”
Students, parents and community members wrote these statements to communicate their frustrations with the board, Shaw said.
“The school board is supposed to do what’s best for the students and we were like, ‘how do they not talk to us and then do what’s best for us,” Shaw said. “We said, ‘let’s see if we can get our voices heard and see if we can do something for us.’”
Mirich declined to comment about students’ attendance at the school board meeting on June 22.
“The nature of that I cannot discuss with you, nor can they, because it was in executive session,” Mirich said.
Wyoming Press Association attorney Bruce Moats of Cheyenne, who specializes in open meeting law, disagreed with Mirich’s assessment. Moats told The Herald, just because the board opted to go into executive sessions, as private citizens the students are under no obligation to keep what happened behind closed doors private.
The board also attempted to quash the written concerns of the students. Moats argued, just because the board read the statements during executive sessions, the students didn’t lose ownership of their own written words.
But Shaw said she does believe the board listened to the community’s concerns, and “it felt good.”
Shaw pointed to the district’s student handbook and wellness policies to express inconsistencies between rules for students and Garhart’s actions.
“Looking at all the things we’re expected to do, wouldn’t you think the administration and the adults in the building would be expected to do those things as well?” Shaw said.
The High School Principal position is now advertised on NCSD’s Human Resources page. According to Shaw, the next principal should be someone who is willing to do “good” for NCHS.
“Someone who has the best interest of the students in mind, and the staff,” Shaw said. “We have had a lot of change and I hope someone that wants to stay and make a difference.”