People speak for and against Amundson at school board meeting

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Aaron Amundson

By Ted Pennekamp

 

It was a standing room only crowd at the Prairie du Chien School Board meeting Monday night and extra chairs were brought in as numerous teachers, staff and students were on hand to show support for Aaron Amundson in anticipation of a possible vote about his position with the school district. 

There was no vote taken regarding Amundson following the closed session portion of the meeting. District Administrator Robert Smudde said that Amundson remains on non-disciplinary paid leave.

There were also several community members at the meeting who were not there to support Amundson and some asked for his removal as Bluff View principal.

Five people spoke to the board about Amundson, 43, who has been charged in Crawford County Circuit Court with one count of physical abuse of a child. Amundson is accused of burning a 14-year-old student’s hand in an attempt to clean profanity off the student’s hand. Three people spoke against Amundson and two spoke in favor of him.

Prairie du Chien Chinese teacher Amy West said she enjoys working with her colleagues, the students and Amundson. “We need Mr. Amundson back in school,” said West. “We need a leader. For four years, we have always worked out good plans (regarding students). Mr. Amundson was always available to help each student grow, and he has used patience and guidance. The Prairie du Chien community has been very blessed to have him.”

“My daughter, who was cowering on the floor, was dragged by her ankles by Aaron,” said former school board member Kristine Rutherford. “Thank God, that it wasn’t your child who was made a target.” Rutherford said it is really bad when a mentor is doing things to kids and nothing is being done about it. “I warned the district about an escalation. I would like the community to come together and solve this problem. We’ve got to stop this. It has been happening over and over.” Rutherford said her daughter still suffers anxiety over the incident.

“The fear level is immense of certain people in this community,” said parent Bethany Iverson, who noted that it is hard to get up in front of numerous Amundson supporters and tell the truth about what has happened in the past such as the “kill threat” incident of 2015. Iverson said that she helped conduct a survey in which 85 people said Amundson was a bully, intimidating and verbally abusive toward students. Iverson said another 73 people said Amundson called students names such as “stupid,” “idiots,” “fat” and “worthless,” to name a few.

Parent Carol Steger said that when she first met Amundson, he was very rude to her. She said Amundson also treated her son badly and her son became very stressed because of it. She also said that Amundson threatened her son with not graduating. “My son is now doing much better without Amundson around,” said Steger.

Amundson’s step-daughter, Taylor Lawrence, said she is very proud to be his step-daughter and that he treats her as his own. Lawrence had to pause momentarily as she choked up with emotion while speaking about Amundson. “It is about improving the community. We should improve and not judge. We need civil discourse,” said Lawrence, who called out all of the people on social media, who in recent weeks, have called Amundson vile names and have told lies and made threats. “Social media is not civil discourse,” she said. “If you have done this (lies, names and threats) then you are a bully too.” Lawrence said the community needs to see if it can find common ground, have civil discourse and solve the problem with checks and balances. “We need to stop judging. We need to improve and heal,” she said.

Most of those in attendance stayed and followed the rest of the school board meeting before the board went into closed session. While the crowd stood  outside of the meeting room in City Hall during the closed session, Amundson came out and thanked everyone for their support.

Amundson has been with the Prairie du Chien School District since the 1997-1998 school year.

In other business, the board voted Lonnie Achenbach as the new board president. Nick Gilberts was chosen as the vice president. Cassie Hubanks was named the clerk and Lynn O’Kane was chosen as treasurer.

Board member Tom Peterson asked how much over budget the district is on the school facilities upgrade project. District Administrator Robert Smudde said the district is $780,000 over the referendum of $18.9 million. He said, however, that the district had budgeted $19.3 million for the project. There could be approximately $150,000 more added on if more change orders are approved.

It was also noted at the meeting that 25 students open enrolled into the district in 2018 and four students open enrolled out of the district.

High School principal Andy Banasik said there is a trip to China planned for June of 2019 at no cost to the district. The trip would be for eight or nine days.

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