Rhinebeck High students, parents protest teacher’s replacement

Rhinebeck High School students and parents are protesting the replacement of a popular substitute gym teacher.

At a Board of Education meeting Oct. 23, 19 high school students and several parents appeared to speak in favor of retaining Andrew Sheldon in the position he has filled since last December.

Several students and parents pleaded with the board to reconsider their agenda item of hiring David Jutton as a two-month substitute, through Dec. 21. Jutton, who is a junior varsity boys’ basketball coach at the high school, was scheduled to start the teaching job Oct. 24, the day after the board meeting.

“Today, since it was Mr. Sheldon’s last day, many students, myself included, ended the day with tears,” Lillian Oyen-Ustad, president of the student council, told the board. “There’s a reason we’re here: we care about this teacher more than some of you might expect.”

The students presented the board with a petition supporting Sheldon, which was signed by 300 students.

Oyen-Ustad and other students who spoke also told the board that on a Twitter feed at #SaveSheldon there had been 500 Tweets in favor of keeping him there. “We are young adults who deserve a chance to learn in an environment we feel comfortable in,” added Oyen-Ustad. “Each and every student will be affected by your decision.”

Sheldon was hired last year to replace a regular teacher who was put on administrative leave after his arrest on petty larceny charges.

Physical education teacher Lisa Hackett also spoke highly of Sheldon. “He has been impeccable in his job,” she told the board. “He has done the job flawlessly, both in character and in fulfilling our curriculum.”

Hackett and other speakers also mentioned a possible relationship between Jutton and members of the hiring committee. “I think there’s a whole political thing going on here, I don’t know,” she said.

In reply, Board of Education President Deirdre Burns said, “We respect and appreciate that students came to the board to show support for one of the finalist candidates. Currently, students are a part of the process for hiring probationary appointments by being a part of demonstration lessons and giving their feedback to the hiring committee.”

The board then voted to table Jutton’s appointment until after an executive session. After that session, board members voted to table it further until a special meeting Oct. 30.

And after that special meeting, the board confirmed its decision to hire Jutton.

“The board, in collaboration with our administrators, reviewed the search, interview and committee processes for filling this position,” Burns told the Observer after the special meeting. “We examined claims of conflicts of interest among members of the hiring committee and questions about the length of the appointment.”

“Frequently, candidates for teaching positions in our schools have some previous relationship to our district, whether from student teaching, working as a substitute, coaching a team or having attended Rhinebeck schools. Indeed this was true of two of the final three candidates in this hire,” she said.

She added, “The board determined that these previous professional relationships did not inappropriately influence the process or outcome of the hiring recommendation. … We voted to support the principal’s recommendation of the candidate he deemed to be the best candidate to emerge from the process.”

The student-created Twitter feed continues.

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