Ki-Be principal's actions deserve public scrutiny

The Kiona-Benton City School District has a mess on its hands.

And we're not talking about whether a principal threatened to cut off a student's rosary beads with a pocket knife.

We're talking about the actions of the school district since the alleged incident.

We don't have much detail about what transpired between Ki-Be High School Principal Wayne Barrett and the student. We do know that the idea of a school official pulling out a pocket knife in any manner of response to a student is wrong.

It's also clear that the matter got a lot of parents and community members fired up. So much so that Monday's meeting had to be moved from the district office to the high school auditorium to accommodate the crowd.

The public's reaction is appropriate. The community has every right to ask questions and expect answers about the behavior of the man charged with ensuring their children's safety.

District officials are just making it worse by not being forthcoming with information about the incident or what punishment, if any, the principal received.

The best the district could do was say it had taken "appropriate action" regarding Barrett and cite privacy concerns for withholding additional details.

That's just not good enough. But the state's sunshine laws call for a two-pronged test for keeping secrets to protect a public employee's privacy. Disclosure has to be highly offensive and of no legitimate public concern.

It's clear that this case fails to meet at least one element of that test. The people need to know what happened and what the district did about it so they can make informed decisions about their school district.

"Appropriate action" is vague and subjective. It could be anything from a simple scolding to a letter in his file to a suspension without pay.

We just don't know because no one is talking.

We're not even sure whether any district officials believe there was a problem with Barrett's behavior.

Rosary beads have been used as gang symbols, and the assumption is that Barrett wanted them removed for those reasons.

Local law enforcement officials will tell you the best policy when it comes to gang identifiers is one of zero-tolerance.

But that really isn't the point. The district has a responsibility to the community and its students to inform them in matters affecting school operations.

The school board chairman said there was an investigation and that there were no charges against Barrett. But personnel action had been taken and the matter "will be closed."

But that's not quite right, either. The Benton County Prosecutor's office is reviewing the sheriff's investigation of the incident. That leads people to wonder why Barrett would be allowed at the school during an active investigation.

It's clear that the student involved in the incident is asking similar questions. He sought and received a temporary court order to keep Barrett at least 100 feet away.

It's hard to blame the student. The district has failed to show that it is taking the matter seriously or giving it appropriate attention.

If Barrett is cleared of wrongdoing, then tell the community. If something more severe is found, make it known.

It's probably even fairer to Barrett to keep the community informed, rather than leave parents and students wondering what happened and what kind of censure was delivered, if any.

The sooner the facts are known, the quicker the matter will fade away.

Maybe some lessons could be learned about proper protocol for dealing with students who wear clothing and jewelry that are connected to gang activity. And maybe students could be reminded about what's acceptable attire and decoration at school, and what's not.

But right now, all anyone is learning is the lesson being taught by Ki-Be school officials on how to handle a divisive incident badly.

Instead of defusing a situation by showing how the matter was dealt with, the district is just fueling the fire of conspiracy and cover-up.

The district needs to be more forthcoming. Everyone involved deserves that.