UPDATED: Teton County leaders unite to condemn trustee’s divisive social media post

Updated, September 21 at 6 p.m., with a comment from Trustee Kathleen Haar.

DRIGGS — Teton County teachers, principals and the district superintendent recently banded together to publicly censure one of their trustees for a social media post they found “harmful” and “disheartening.”

The board chair and remaining trustees supported the rebuke of Kathleen Haar, who sparked the backlash with a social media post that questioned the hiring of 10 district employees — eight teachers, a counselor, and the head football coach. 

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The post reverberated throughout the community, leaving teachers feeling attacked and demoralized just as the school year was starting, Teton County Superintendent Megan Christiansen said at a Sept. 11 board meeting. 

“We dealt with a huge decline in morale,” she told the board. “We had to spend the last two weeks repairing the damage with our staff members … It was really frustrating for me as a superintendent, disheartening for our admin team, and really harmful to our staff. And if you don’t think that impacts kids, it does. When people don’t feel valued in their work, it impacts our kids.”

Teton County Superintendent Megan Christiansen. Photo: Connor Shea, Teton Valley News

Christiansen said the post counteracted goals she’s been working toward in the district, like recruiting, hiring, and retaining quality staff members and improving school culture. 

District principals and leaders joined Christiansen in denouncing Haar, signing a letter that Principal Brian Ashton read aloud at the meeting. The district’s administrators and Teton Education Association representatives attended the meeting and stood as Ashton read the letter in a sign of solidarity. 

“We are asking you to stop targeting individual schools, individual teachers, and individual administrators,” Ashton read. “Your actions are having a negative impact on staff morale and our ability to keep students at the center of our focus. It is causing realtime harm and we are having a hard time keeping up with the damage. Your approach is also generating mistrust that is unfair and very difficult to repair.”

Haar was at the meeting, but did not visibly react as the letter was read.

Ray Hinchcliff, the board chair, offered his support for the superintendent, administrators, and teachers. 

Board Chair Ray Hinchliff. Photo: tsd401.org

“The most important thing we as a school board can do is promote policies, practices, and governance that lead to improved student achievement,” he said. “We need to get behind our superintendent, our admin team, the staff, teachers, and everybody to make that happen and not be a hindrance.”

Hinchcliff penned an apology for Haar’s behavior to the community, which was published in the Teton Valley News Monday, and reached out to the Idaho School Boards Association for advice on how “to improve the way we function as a board.” The ISBA suggested the board implement new operating protocols, which Hinchcliff plans to add to the board’s ethics and compliance standards. 

The remaining trustees also spoke in support of district teachers and staff and condemned Haar’s actions. 

“I don’t know at this point how the challenge with your behavior could be clearer,” Trustee Shannon Brooks-Hamby said. “If the behavior doesn’t change, I think it is a willful inability to comply with what we agree needs to be in place to function highly, not only as a board but also as a district … And if the behavior doesn’t change, I think your zone four constituents have some conversations and some decisions to make.”

Trustee Shannon Brooks-Hamby. Photo: tsd401.org

Brooks-Hamby and Trustee Michael Adams implored Haar to comment, respond, or explain her actions, but she declined to comment. 

“Not tonight,” she said. “Everybody else has had a chance to think about what they wanted to say, and I think I’m entitled to that also.”

In a Thursday email to Idaho Education News, Haar said she has “always encouraged community members to do their own research, and have provided links, examples, and suggestions to help them in researching their questions.” She indicated that’s what she was doing in her social media post — explaining, in response to a post about district hiring practices, “that the top five applicants for a certified position were public record” by showing an old public records request.

“My intent was not to create discomfort for our teachers, although it would have been more considerate to not include the names from the example,” she said. “I believe that transparency and accountability include ensuring that the community understands what data is available and where to find it. I see this as part of my responsibility as an elected official.”

Haar is one of several trustees statewide who have been publicly reprimanded this year.

In April, Boise Schools Trustee Shiva Rajbhandari was similarly rebuked by his board chair for a social media post in which he swore at and threatened Gov. Brad Little for signing a bill that banned gender-affirming care for transgender minors. 

And earlier this month, two West Bonner trustees were recalled by voters after a controversial decision to hire Branden Durst as superintendent, even though he lacked the required qualifications. 

These unusual checks on trustee behavior and decisions come as school board races are becoming increasingly competitive and politicized. 

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

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