Send ’em to the principal’s office

Our cover story this week (“Abuse of authority,” by Robert Speer) revisits a painful period in Chico’s recent history, the highly public battle in spring 2004 between former Chico Unified School District Superintendent Scott Brown and Marsh Junior High School Principal Jeff Sloan. Some of our readers no doubt will complain that we’re reopening a wound that was just about healed.

But was it? For a long time we wanted to think it was healing, but now we know better.

Like many others, we long believed the wise course for everyone would have been for Sloan to give up his dogged, sometimes obsessive effort to obtain justice. The community needed to put this behind it and move on, we thought.

No longer. Now we agree with Sloan: This is not over, nor should it be.

Our story, which is based on newly revealed information, concerns the district’s handling of a computer it seized from Sloan’s office on March 16, 2004. As the article shows, district officials led by former Superintendent Scott Brown chose to accuse Sloan of being responsible for the presence of “sexually explicit and/or obscene and vulgar photographs” on the computer’s hard drive, even though the charge was completely unfounded. The accusation and accompanying photographs were to be put in Sloan’s personnel file, where they would remain indefinitely.

The accusation was intended as a threat to embarrass Sloan in a public way that would have meant death to his career and, presumably, compel him to give up his fight. There’s no other way to explain it.

We understand that it’s hard to get rid of a tenured certificated employee, but the district went way too far in this case. Whatever one thinks of Jeff Sloan, it was shameful and despicable for his employer, a public school district whose ostensible purpose is the improvement of society, to mount a deceitful campaign to threaten him with public humiliation in order to force him out.

If the school board and current Superintendent Chet Francisco really want to put this matter behind them, they need to do more than continue trying to shove it under the rug. It’s too big for that now. The incidents described in our story need a full investigation by an impartial outside group or individual.

Here are just a few of the questions that need answering:

• Who was involved in setting up the threat of humiliation? Who knew about it but kept silent?

• Why did the computer consultant’s contract—he was paid nearly $5,000, far above the $1,001 threshold requiring school board approval—never rise to the board level?

• Were the risqué photos on the computer hard drive planted there? If so, by whom? The district should hire an expert qualified to answer this question.

• The district’s attorney knew there was no link between Sloan and the dirty pictures. He also delivered the district’s accusation to Sloan’s office. Didn’t he know what the accusation said? If so, why didn’t he stop it?

In 2004, Jeff Sloan was held accountable for alleged financial irregularities in the handling of student-raised funds, despite the fact that every penny was accounted for and no money had gone to him personally. He lost his job and career as a result. His vice principal, Frank Thompson, also lost his job.

Meanwhile, some of the people at the district office who engineered this reprehensible scheme to threaten Sloan remain in positions of public trust. The Chico community won’t be able to gain closure and move on until the full truth is known and they are held accountable.