Sequim School Board director Jim Stoffer speaks during a League of Women Voters forum in 2019. Four board members last week considered a resolution to censure Stoffer and ask him to resign for allegedly breaking board policy, but ultimately agreed to delay a vote in order to gather more information. File photo by Jesse Major/Olympic Peninsula News Group

Sequim School Board director Jim Stoffer speaks during a League of Women Voters forum in 2019. Four board members last week considered a resolution to censure Stoffer and ask him to resign for allegedly breaking board policy, but ultimately agreed to delay a vote in order to gather more information. File photo by Jesse Major/Olympic Peninsula News Group

Sequim School Board considers, delays motion to censure director

A proposed vote to censure a Sequim School Board member and encourage him to resign last week was postponed.

Four board members on Oct. 21 considered a resolution to censure director Jim Stoffer for “disclosing to a District employee who has two active complaints against the District information shared confidentially with the Board of Directors.”

However, the directors — board president Brandino Gibson, vice president Eric Pickens, Larry Jeffryes and Brian Kuh — decided to postpone the vote until more information could be disclosed and to allow Stoffer to return from a medical leave.

A date to resolve the issue — Nov. 22 — was discussed but not finalized by the end of the meeting.

“I really struggled with this entire situation,” Pickens said Thursday night, before encouraging fellow board members to postpone the vote.

“I can certainly attest (that) I know director Stoffer cares about our students, staff, and community; time and time again he has stepped up for our community. I know that he is a good man and leads with his heart,” Pickens said.

“On the other hand, there is this concern … This is where I’m sensing some problems. We’ve been advised by our legal counsel because of active investigations that we really can’t give the full story as to how this information came to being.”

Stoffer — who attended the meeting with his attorney, Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin, who is also a Port Angeles City Council member running for re-election in the Nov. 2 election — said in a statement, “What I actually did was uncover the truth … Instead of confronting the issues inside the district that are harming students and staff, the Board has decided to try to force me to resign.”

Stoffer said in the statement that “Interim Superintendent Dr. Jayne Pryne told the members of the Board that she knew who submitted an anonymous Citizen Hotline complaint to the State Auditor, and identified that person by name. I asked that person if they submitted it, and they said no.

“I did not reveal confidential information in doing so, I merely asked a question.

“So I’m accused today of verifying whether the information shared with us by our employee is the truth. I did not reveal confidential information. The board has no basis for censuring me.”

Board directors did not detail what information Stoffer allegedly provided, nor the identity of the district employee who received the information (read the censure proposal here) .

Multiple complaints by current district employees have been filed against the Sequim School District.

The proposed resolution to censure said that the board:

“(1) censures Director Jim Stoffer for engaging in ex parte conversation with a District employee and disclosing confidential Board information; and

“(2) recognizes the inability of Director Jim Stoffer to continue to perform effectively as Board member due to his violation of trust and accepts his decision to recuse himself from confidential matters related to his previous inappropriate communications;

“(3) regrets the breach of trust that has hampered District operations and damaged the working relationships between Director Jim Stoffer and other Directors and senior District administration; and

“(4) calls on Director Jim Stoffer to resign from the Sequim School District Board of Directors immediately in the best interests of the Sequim School District.”

“I feel very conflicted because I do believe that the community does deserve more information and transparency on this issue,” Pickens said. “I would like to tell the story for full transparency. And I would like director Stoffer to hopefully not be on medical leave so he can speak to it as well.”

Stoffer, a Sequim School Board member for the past six years, has been on sick leave since mid-September; a statement from Stoffer distributed the day of the meeting noted he want on leave “due to the stress of this situation.”

Pickens’ motion to postpone the vote for the possibility of more information to be disclosed and for Stoffer to return from medical leave was unanimously agreed upon; however, directors expressed concern that the issue would linger on and should have an end date.

“I feel like due process is extremely important and let’s make sure we have given director Stoffer the appropriate amount of time to respond,” Pickens said. “If there’s more information that needs to be brought to light, lets’s allow for that.”

Jeffryes said he was inclined to vote on the resolution at last Thursday’s meeting.

“I’m not sure what the delay would do except give director Stoffer and the public more time to react to the situation,” Jeffryes said.

“I think there’s a necessary action the board needs to take, vote on, one way or another. Delaying it ad infinitum … would not be good for the school district.”

Jeffryes said any more transparency other than what is written in the resolution may be more violations of confidentiality.

“It may just be the public never hears the full story,” he said. “That’s unfortunate, but … we’re obligated to protect everybody’s rights involved. There are certain things we cannot talk about, and should not talk about. It’s very unsatisfactory to the public — it sounds like we’re covering up, we’re not telling the truth — when in fact we are following the laws, legal advice, and protecting everyone’s rights in this situation.

“We have to walk a real tightrope. All of us need to be careful.”

Gibson and Jeffryes said it would be best to resolve the issue before the new board is sworn in. (The board will see two new members come in January 2022, as Gibson and Kuh declined to run for their positions.)

Schromen-Wawrin said Stoffer was never presented a written document of allegations against him, allowed to present evidence or witnesses on his behalf, nor was given a 48-hour notice that the special meeting would take place.

“It is apparent the board has no interest (in giving director Stoffer) an opportunity to defend himself,” Schromen-Wawrin said.

“It’s not too late for you my fellow school directors to make things right,” Stoffer said in a prepared statement through his attorney. “Vote no on this resolution.”

Prior to the meeting, Stoffer drafted a statement that said the meeting was “an attempt by lame duck Sequim School Board Directors to force a resignation of Director Stoffer, the school board member who has taken seriously his responsibility to the district, to students, to family, and staff.”

The statement went on to detail Stoffer’s activities and responsibilities during his half-dozen years on the elected board, and his stance against bullying.

“One thing I have always been clear about is where I stand on bullying: not here, not there, not anywhere in Sequim schools; not in our community! All students, and all staff, deserve to be treated with courtesy and respect each and every day,” the statement noted.

“For standing up to this, Director Stoffer has now become the target of just that kind of harassment and bullying.

“A majority of that has come from within the school district boardroom itself, and appears to be highly aggressive and political in nature … What the public also hasn’t seen is that the rest of the school board has been, for over a month, attempting to force Director Stoffer’s resignation.”

The statement noted that during a Oct. 18 regular school board meeting, the board allowed public comment by a district employee “that specifically attacked Jim referencing a complaint that Director Stoffer had received from a community member.”

The statement noted, “The school district’s policy is to not take public comment on active complaints, but the board violated that policy in order to smear Director Stoffer.”

Schromen-Wawrin said in the statement, “If Jim had breached confidentiality, he should have been asked to schedule a fair and impartial investigation looking into these accusations, not a public smear attack at a hasty special meeting.”

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