The Hastings Schools Board of Education meeting Jan. 15 in the High School Media Center, packed with kids, parents and teachers, became a show of strong support for a Central Elementary teacher.
The comments from more than a dozen people praised Young 5’s teacher Emily Hoke, who some feared might be fired by the board. A little girl who spoke up and said Hoke was the best teacher she ever had, it brought tears to the eyes of many in the crowd.
Public comments, some very emotional, were closed after 30 minutes by the board, leaving unanswered questions, including Hoke’s future with the school, why they weren’t informed of the situation, and if the board could legally limit the time for the public to speak.
Responding to a request for comment, Superintendent Carrie Duits said the matter is, “a personnel situation that we can’t discuss at this time. It’s to protect the employee’s rights. We are addressing the matter following state law and complying with notices from the Michigan Department of Education.” She said board President Luke Haywood told the audience that the board’s bylaws allow just 30 minutes total of public comment.
Elizabeth Lonergan, a parent at the meeting, said she thought something was amiss at the beginning of school last September, when she was told the school couldn’t say who her 5-year-old’s teacher would be in the new school year. She thought that odd since Hoke is the only Young 5’s teacher at Central. She described Hoke as “a perfect fit” for her active daughter, and if Hoke can’t be her teacher, she will consider leaving the district.
Lonergan said parents learned Hoke had not renewed her teaching certificate on time at the beginning of the school year, but was allowed to teach until Nov. 15. A state audit discovered it and fined the school $24,081, to come from its state aid, or $248 for each day Hoke was in the classroom without being certified, she said.
“She didn’t get it in on time, but it was pending all that time,” Lonergan said. “She offered to pay the fine and take a sub’s pay.” Hoke was recertified on Nov. 16, and turned it into the school the same day.
Just before Christmas break in December, parents heard that Hoke was asked to resign her position by Dec. 22 or be terminated. “She didn’t resign; she said she didn’t do anything wrong,” Lonergan said. Hoke was notified the day before school resumed that she was to return to her classroom, she said.
Many parents were upset that they were not told of the matter when it was ongoing. “We got a letter saying that they wouldn’t talk about it; that letter came from the superintendent’s office, not one board member knew about it when we talked to them,” she said.
Now the parents wait for what comes next. Lonergan has heard there will be a tenure hearing for Hoke, and also that an official in the system is not certified. Upset that public comment was cut off at 30 minutes, she is considering filing an Open Meetings Act complaint with the Barry County Sheriff’s Office.
Hoke did not return a voice mail message asking for comment.