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Eagan principal may be fired in school toilet incident

  • Article by: SARAH LEMAGIE
  • Star Tribune
  • February 17, 2009 - 8:20 AM

An Eagan principal who allegedly made a kindergartner clear out a school toilet bowl bare-handed will be fired if the district's school board has its way, his attorney said Monday.

Rahn Elementary School Principal Doug Steele offered his side of the story through attorney Roger Aronson, saying that the toilet contained only water and paper towels and that he simply had the 6-year-old boy remove the towels and put them in a wastebasket.

Steele, who is entitled to a hearing, asked for one on Friday as part of a disciplinary process that can typically take two or three months, Aronson said.

The principal was put on paid leave from his job in December after the boy's parents said he made their son remove paper towels the boy had dropped into the toilet.

Earlier this month, the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school board voted to move ahead with unspecified discipline against the principal.

Citing data practices laws and union rules, school district officials said Monday that they will continue to decline to comment on the nature of Steele's punishment or on details of the case until the end of the disciplinary process. But Aronson said Steele has been told he faces the loss of his job.

The parents, Elijah and Shannon Hannah of Eagan, said they filed a complaint against Steele after a Dec. 12 incident involving one of their sons, whom the Star Tribune is not naming.

The boy told them that the trouble started when he used a single-occupancy bathroom in his classroom and wiped himself with paper towels, accidentally causing the toilet to clog, his parents said.

When the boy's teacher found out, she called the principal, they said.

Aronson said Steele says that the toilet contained nothing but paper towels and water, and that it's unclear whether it was even clogged. "I can tell you that 6-year-olds have trouble remembering what they had for lunch yesterday, that they're highly suggestible," Aronson said. "We may never know what the real story was."

The boy plucked half a dozen paper towels out of the toilet while Steele held a wastebasket for him to put them into, Aronson said.

Firing Steele would be too harsh a penalty, his attorney argued. Steele wouldn't repeat his actions if he could turn back time, but "it wasn't some gross form of punishment," Aronson said, adding that he does not believe Steele acted out of malice or anger.

Elijah Hannah disagreed. "I think he should lose his job," he said Monday. Hannah said he's frustrated that the school didn't call a custodian to clean up the mess and that the family wasn't called when the incident happened. The Hannahs found out about it from their son when he came home from school, he said.

The family said earlier that it would consider legal action if the district doesn't fire Steele.

The Hannahs' son, the youngest of their three boys who attend the school, remains in the same class at Rahn.

The principal will have a hearing with an arbitrator that could be closed to the public, Aronson said.

An interim principal, Elaine Mehdizadeh, stepped in at Rahn on Dec. 16.

Steele, who came to Rahn in 2003, was hired by the district in 1996 as principal of William Byrne Elementary School in Burnsville.

Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016

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