The last parent to take the podium at Monday night’s Elk River school board meeting captured the sentiments of many in the overflow crowd: Why couldn’t the punishment for a two-word post fit the crime?
“You’re talking about a 17-year-old boy who made an impulsive decision,” said Shauna Eicher. “The punishment did not fit the crime.”
Filling two rooms at Elk River City Hall and including nearly 100 teachers, Eicher and others were anxious to weigh in on the district’s seven-week suspension of a Rogers High student whose response to a Web post had seemed to suggest an inappropriate relationship with a 28-year-old teacher at the school.
They waited outside in the cold for more than an hour for the City Hall doors to open and many said they were puzzled by the district’s response to what the student, Reid Sagehorn, has said was a sarcastic response to a Web post asking if he had “made out” with the teacher.
His response, “Yes, actually,” set off a chain of reactions that ended with him transferring to another school after the incident and its repercussions went viral on the Web.
Larry Simpson, the father of four children in the district, called Sagehorn’s punishment excessive. “I’m angry, I’m sad, but mostly I’m confused,” Simpson said. “Is that fair to Reid Sagehorn? How could we have done this differently?”
That question was not to be answered Monday night.
Dan Hunt, a school board member, made a motion to put the controversy on the agenda Monday, but none of his fellow members would second his motion.
During the meeting’s public comment session, however, many parents, teachers and administrators had their say. Many voiced concern about possible damage to the reputation of the teacher, who was questioned by police after Sagehorn’s post but cleared of any impropriety. Others worried that Sagehorn’s college plans could be disrupted.
“I feel sorry for both of them,” said Al Spilles, whose son was co-captain of the Rogers High football and basketball teams last year.
“We’re here to support our teacher,” said Bill Hjertstedt, president of the Elk River Education Association. “At some point, this has to be resolved. How do we move forward in a positive way, without doing any more harm.”
Neither the teacher nor Reid Sagehorn attended the meeting, but Sagehorn’s parents, Curt and Lori Sagehorn, and two of the family’s attorneys, Joe Friedberg and Ron Rosenbaum, were present.
Friedberg had planned to speak at the meeting on behalf of the family but decided against it when the school board declined to place the Sagehorn matter on the official agenda. The parents also didn’t speak at the meeting.
“Frankly, their hopes at this point are to have no more problems placed on their other children, or any other kids,” Friedberg said.
In addition to Reid, a senior, the Sagehorns are parents of triplets, two girls and a boy, all sophomores at Rogers High School.
“They want to be sure that nothing like this happens again, to any kids,” Rosenbaum said.
In an exclusive interview with the Star Tribune Saturday, Sagehorn, captain of the football and basketball teams, said he had apologized in writing to the teacher. That apology was confirmed by Elk River District Superintendent Mark Bezek.
Sagehorn, a National Honors Society member with a 3.8 grade-point average, began classes in another school district Monday.
“We’re all really bummed about that,” said Baylee Waldhoff, 16, a junior at Rogers High who has worn the words “Free Reid” taped to her shirt. “He’s such a good kid. It’s terrible that he can’t come back.”
That door has not been completely closed. Bezek has said repeatedly that he is seeking “resolution” to Sagehorn’s situation. Sagehorn, who also played on the Rogers baseball team, has said he had anxiety attacks after the suspension began. Sagehorn said he struggled to sleep and would wake up often, sometimes shaking.
He has been accepted to North Dakota State University, where he plans to study next fall. He was looking forward to the baseball season, to his senior prom, to enjoying the final months of his senior year.
“I’ve learned my lesson and I am truly sorry,” he said repeatedly Saturday. “I just want to move on with my life.”