A respectful yet pointed plea on the part of parents not wanting to lose their children’s fourth-grade teacher encouraged the Rush City School Board to reconsider its previous vote on Thursday night, May 16.
One mother, Michelle Anderson, stood before the board and spoke on behalf of fellow parents and students who felt stunned upon hearing the news that Ben Mettling’s teaching contract was terminated and not renewed by the board. A probationary teacher and coach of multiple sports, he started with the district last fall.
“(Mettling) is the first to arrive and the last to leave every day,” Anderson told board members in a prepared statement. “He takes the time to fully explain what he expects from the children in his class. He has ignited a fire for learning in children who had lost interest in school; he has ignited a passion for learning (in) many of the students in the fourth grade.”
Critical of the process, she also asked why parents were not notified that his contract was up for evaluation or why the meeting agenda didn’t reflect the issue. She asked why resigning Board Member Channa Tastsides’ vote was allowed, since the board originally called for her seat to be vacant at the end of an earlier meeting.
Board members were supposed to act on Mettling’s contract at their regular April 18 meeting, but a snowstorm forced the meeting to be moved to Tuesday night, April 23. As a result, Tastsides’ last meeting as board member also was changed from meeting’s end April 18 to meeting’s end April 23, with voting powers intact until adjournment.
At that rescheduled meeting, and following a lengthy closed session to discuss a “personnel issue,” the board ended up voting 4-2 in favor of not renewing the contract for Mettling. Voting in favor were Tastsides, Brian Anderson, Scott Tryon and Carol Cook. Voting against were Brenda Nessel and Stefanie Folkema.
Due to data privacy laws that, in part, protect a teacher’s performance or evaluations from the public, the board could not divulge its reasoning for not renewing the teaching contract. All teachers on probationary status are supposed to have three formal observations, Superintendent Vern Koepp noted.
Following the April 23 board meeting, Anderson continued, concerned parents started a petition and began writing letters to school board members to reconsider the vote.
She said to the board, “I know we don’t have full access to the reasons behind why this
teacher’s contract was not renewed, but neither do you.” In her presentation, Anderson insisted board members need to observe for themselves or take into account multiple evaluations from different sources in determining a teacher’s ability in the classroom.
Another mother, Micca Rasmussen, said her twin children have Mettling for a teacher.
“My daughter wrote a letter in support of him. Her first sentence was, ‘I felt like his daughter,’ and she’s very shy. He’s very caring with both my children, and I couldn’t ask for a better teacher.”
Melissa Wiener said her daughter used to cry a lot and had trouble at school. “This year she’s happy,” she said. “I don’t have to ask her to do her homework. She knows she can ask him for help, and he gives her his time. She came out of a shell that we haven’t seen out of her.”
Fellow Rush City parent Erin White spoke at the meeting, too. She said that due to her daughter’s injuries earlier in the school year, she was not able to go out for recess or participate in gym activities at school. Feeling isolated, she fell behind in her homework.
However, because she had Mettling as a teacher, he spent much of his own lunch time with her and helped her catch up in all of her academic subjects, from math to reading, along with science.
“He made her feel comfortable and got to know her,” White continued. “He made sure she would pass fourth grade.”
Unable to act on or discuss the matter that evening, the board could only listen. Boardchair Folkema said to the parents, “Thank you for coming forward. It’s not an easy thing to do.”
On Monday night, May 20, the board met for more than an hour to consider revisiting the Mettling matter during a study session. Board members wanted to carefully work through and discuss what the group of parents presented at the last meeting, Koepp said in a phone interview Tuesday.
“There was some urgency, and they didn’t want to prolong this,” he added.
While votes cannot be taken at study sessions, the board did come to a consensus that it will not reopen for a vote, and they will leave their decision as it is, Koepp said.
Students in action
When Mettling’s students got word of the board’s decision last month, many united in action by creating posters, T-shirts and even a “Save the Stache” campaign in support of their teacher who had a sense of humor with his facial hair.
A petition to “Save Mr. Mettling” generated well more than 100 signatures from students and parents.