Mound Westonka activities director resigns in aftermath of Harlem Shake controversy

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 12, 2013 - 9:28 PM

Dion Koltes left after weeks of criticism over the suspension of students who were taped doing the “Harlem Shake” at the high school.

The Mound Westonka High School activities director has resigned in the wake of a backlash to suspensions levied against students for doing the “Harlem Shake” dance at school. But parents say it’s just the first step to healing tensions from the incident late last month.

Some are calling for policy changes and even resignations of other top school leaders.

“There needs to be change,” said Chris Niederer.

Activities director Dion Koltes, who took much of the heat, resigned Monday. The school board said it’s “in the best interests of the district.”

Six varsity hockey players and two other students were suspended Feb. 22 for doing the “Harlem Shake,” a viral Internet flash-mob dance, with a cellphone video showing some students on chairs and tables in the cafeteria. The hockey players missed a sectional playoff game that night, which the team lost, ending its season.

After outcry from parents and students, the suspensions were reduced from two days to one and $75 police citations that had been issued for “riot-like behavior” were revoked.

Koltes started at Mound Westonka in August 2010. The district will pay him $25,881 — the portion of his $77,644 salary that he would have gotten for the rest of the school year. His resignation, signed March 4, was effective Monday.

It is unclear who made the decision to suspend the students, with district officials saying only that the activities director can’t issue suspensions. That will be part of an investigation of the incident, said district spokeswoman Becca Heistad. The investigation is being conducted by attorney Tessa Wagner, who works for the same law firm as the district’s attorney.

‘Wronged a community’

Some parents said Tuesday that Koltes’ resignation is just the start of a resolution.

Collette Roberts, whose son was suspended but wasn’t on the hockey team, said the district needs a policy that lays out what justifies a suspension.

“The administration rushed to judgment,” she said. “It used to be the rush to detention for all the little things. Now, it seems to be suspend, suspend.”

Michelle Brandstetter, whose son is a senior hockey player who was suspended, added that she wants at least an apology from Principal Keith Randklev and Assistant Principal Marty Fischer and, if proper steps aren’t taken, for them and Superintendent Kevin Borg to resign.

Niederer, whose three teens are in hockey but weren’t suspended, agrees. “You didn’t just wrong six hockey players, you wronged a whole community,” she said. “I don’t want Dion to just be the scapegoat. … These are the top three administrators in our school and they made a decision that has lasting consequences.”

Borg declined an interview request, but apologized in a statement, adding: “Our district needs to learn, grow and heal from this incident.”

The Mound Westonka incident has been the most visible locally involving the “Harlem Shake,” but it also has resulted in suspensions at other Twin Cities high schools. Nationwide, hundreds of students have been suspended for filming their versions of the video meme — discipline that the National Coalition Against Censorship criticized last month as a panicked response by administrators. Some educational leaders, though, have defended disciplinary actions, saying that safety has to be administrators’ top priority.

“Harlem Shake” episodes have played out without incident at other schools.

Students leaving Westonka?

In Westonka, as the district searches for Koltes’ replacement, Borg said he will put together a committee of coaches, parents, board members and staff advisers to decide the qualities needed in the next activities director.

It may be too late for some families. “I think there are a lot of people questioning whether to keep their kids in the school district,” Roberts said, adding about the controversy: “it’s impacted more than just the people involved.”

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141 Twitter: @kellystrib

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