An administrative law judge this month dismissed all three charges of abuse and unethical practice against former Mount Vernon Washington Elementary School principal Terry Eisenbarth.
Eisenbarth resigned last June after it became public knowledge that he regularly used a padded hockey stick to lightly hit students with celebratory birthday “whaps.”
In a ruling dated June 14, administrative law Judge Robert Wheeler dismissed the charges of physical abuse against a student, failure to protect students’ health and safety and exposing students to unnecessary embarrassment or disparagement.
Whether those “whaps” were harmless fun or psychologically damaging formed the bulk of the complaint, with several parents alleging the birthday ritual was an attempt by Eisenbarth to “establish his dominance and cause the children to act submissively.”
But more parents came out to support the former principal, testifying that the experience was harmless and optional, enjoyed by those who opted in and witnessed by other students and staff.
Principals Steve Brand of Mount Vernon High and Noreen Colbeck-Bush of Mount Vernon Middle School testified on Eisenbarth’s behalf, saying their own children had participated in the birthday ritual and neither of them considered the practice abusive.
Colbeck-Bush said parents who objected did so because the birthday “whaps” appeared to resemble disciplinary “spankings,” but that she easily distinguished between the two behaviors. Brand said he’d observed Eisenbarth at work as part of professional rounds of Washington Elementary and found him to be a good administrator.
District Superintendent Pam Ewell testified that she instructed Eisenbarth to discontinue the “whappings” in February 2011. No parents had complained, she said, but she was concerned that the practice easily could be misconstrued.
After conducting a criminal investigation, Sgt. Harvey Hall of the Linn County Sheriff’s Office determined that no children were traumatized by the “whappings” and no crime had taken place.
Any adversely affected party has 30 days to appeal Wheeler’s decision to the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners.