A principal’s hugs and kisses have resulted in a stinging reprimand for the administrator and a plan to survey the employee climate at Puyallup High School.
“It was presumptuous, arrogant and wrong of you to assume that it was permissible or appropriate to hug or kiss a woman in a workplace setting,” Larry Sera, assistant superintendent of Puyallup schools’ human resources wrote in a Nov. 16 letter to Puyallup High School Principal Mike Joyner.
“Physical demonstrations of thanks or affection in the workplace are unacceptable to many women and must stop.”
If Joyner engages in physical contact with a woman that might be perceived as inappropriate or unwelcome in the future, Sera warned, it could result in “discipline up to and including termination.”
Sera’s letter noted that this was Joyner’s second reprimand for similar conduct within a year. In November 2006, the district reprimanded Joyner after a teacher at another Puyallup school said he inappropriately squeezed her shoulders and arms as she tried to move away from him at an athletic coach seminar.
Joyner, 58, couldn’t be reached for comment this week.
The Nov. 16 reprimand follows the conclusion of a district investigation last month that found the principal had inappropriately kissed three female employees and a student, and “lightly swatted” one teacher on the head.
Most of the kisses were on the cheek as a sign of thanks, a birthday greeting or farewell. He kissed the student when she became a Daffodil princess, and again when she visited the school the following school year.
NO SEXUAL HARASSMENT FOUND
Philip Thompson, the lawyer hired by the district to conduct the investigation, determined Joyner’s actions didn’t amount to sexual harassment because the contact was neither “severe nor pervasive.” Plus, the people who were kissed or hugged never told Joyner they objected.
Thompson interviewed 33 Puyallup High School and district staff members. While none of the individuals in those instances for which he was reprimanded welcomed the contact, other female employees who had been hugged or kissed said they didn’t object to Joyner’s physical displays of thanks and affection.
The report quoted Joyner as saying he grew up in the South, where, he said, kissing and hugging at work are a common sign of affection or gratitude.
Yet Thompson recommended the district take several steps, starting with issuing a “strongly worded” letter of reprimand.
He also suggested Joyner have a plan for repairing damaged working relationships, meet with staff in small groups to acknowledge mistakes and solicit feedback, and work with a management coach with expertise in male-female relationships in the workplace.
Joyner, who had been on paid administrative leave since Sept. 4 pending the outcome of the most recent investigation, returned to work Oct. 26, the same day the inquiry was concluded.
‘PLAN OF WORK’ ISSUED
Besides issuing the letter of reprimand, the district has begun implementing some of Thompson’s other suggestions.
Joyner has received a two-page “plan of work” laying out a series of short- and long-term tasks to address concerns about physical displays of thanks and appreciation in the workplace, and to determine how the school’s culture and climate adversely affect instruction and student performance.
Joyner has begun meeting with some of the school groups listed in the work plan, which range from department heads to the booster club to student-government leaders, said district spokeswoman Karen Hansen.
On Dec. 5, Puyallup High staff members will take a survey to determine their sense of the school’s culture and climate, another task in Joyner’s work plan.
“The reason we’re going down this path has nothing to do with sexual harassment. They found he was not guilty of sexual harassment,” Hansen said. But during the recent investigation, staff members expressed “mixed opinions about how things are going at Puyallup High School.”
Some reported feeling isolated from the school administration’s decision-making or cited a lack of collaboration, but no single issue of concern stood out.
“So to find out where we are, in terms of culture and climate of school, they’re starting with the survey,” Hansen said. “They’re trying to find the baseline of what exists at the current time.”
The Center for Educational Effectiveness created the survey, which is typically administered to staff members at schools that are beginning the process to raise student achievement.
The district has hired a Seattle University College of Education professor to coach Joyner and school staff in analyzing survey results and addressing issues the survey may reveal.
The survey costs $995, and the district anticipates using the consultant’s services for 10 hours at a cost of $125 an hour, Hansen said.
Debby Abe: 253-597-8694