School District response about middle school teacher’s arrest for ear-biting attack: Why the delay?

659-logoIn today’s Pioneer Press: Northfield teacher charged in St. Paul ear-biting attack:

A Northfield, Minn., middle school teacher faces a felony assault charge after prosecutors say she bit off part of a man’s ear during a drunken altercation in a St. Paul greasy spoon early Sunday. Susan Mukuhi Mwarabu, 30, of Rochester, Minn., was charged Monday with third-degree assault — inflicting substantial bodily harm — after the 4 a.m. incident at the Uptowner Cafe at Grand Avenue and Lexington Parkway.

The news is all over the media but nothing’s available online from the District’s web site, neither from Northfield Superintendent Chris Richardson nor from Middle School Principal Jeff Pesta. I’m on the Key Communicator email list. Nothing yet.

The District’s options are limited when it comes to its employees’ behavior when they’re not on-duty.  But it sure would help to have Richardson and Pesta making some statements to let taxpayers and parents know how they’re approaching this problem.


  1. Kathie Galotti said:

    Dr. R is quoted in the Pioneer Press article—so he knows. I think the strategy the district uses–when there’s no way to spin the story–is to ignore it and hope parents don’t find out. You did 6th grade parents a big favor, Griff. If my kid were her student, I would have serious concerns.

    March 16, 2010
  2. Curt Benson said:

    Griff, I think you may be unfair here. The alleged event took place at 4 am Monday. The time stamp on the Pioneer Press’s online story was 11:52 Monday evening. I think the school district deserves at least a working day to make a public statement.

    On the other hand, as Kathie wrote above, there have been cases in the past when the district’s strategy was to ignore problems and hope the parents didn’t find out. For example, last spring ten middle schoolers were drinking alcohol (from water or pop bottles) during the school day in class on a Friday. The next Monday, six other middle schoolers were caught in class doing the same thing–according to middle school staffers. …..nary a word from the principal. And during the 2006-2007 school year, 15 Northfield school district students were referred out for addiction to opiates and there was no communication to parents or the public.

    March 16, 2010
  3. Griff Wigley said:

    Curt, according to the PiPress, the incident occurred 4 am Sunday morning (very late Saturday night).

    It wouldn’t take much for Chris to bang out a few sentences after getting the call from the reporter and post it to the District’s web site.

    Allow me to be Superintendent for a day. Richardson could have posted something like this:

    “I received a phone call from a reporter tonight regarding the weekend arrest of Northfield Middle School teacher Susan Mwarabu for third-degree assault on a man in St. Paul. Mrs. Mwarabu teaches 6th Grade science, social studies and writing. I phoned the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Dept. to confirm it.  I then phoned Middle School Principal Jeff Pesta to inform him and we’ll be meeting at 8 am on Tuesday morning.  We’ll probably alert the Middle School staff after that and then decide on the next steps for alerting students and parents. ”

    It would just be a little leadership statement in a crisis.

    March 16, 2010
  4. Kiffi Summa said:

    Curt: If the two incidents you report in #2 are accurate, and I have NO reason to doubt you, then I think the school district is seriously remiss in their responsibility to the community.

    Avoidance is NOT a cure; it’s not even a treatment.

    March 16, 2010
  5. Kathie Galotti said:

    Just noticed on the MS website that they cancelled a scheduled parent meeting for tonight. Apparently the “communications” strategy is to go to the bunkers and hide out so no one can ask any embarrassing questions.

    March 16, 2010
  6. Curt Benson said:

    You’re right, Griff, I thought I read “early Monday morning”.

    In any case, I still think you have to give the Superintendent a working day to get out a statement, on line or otherwise. I doubt that the teacher was charged in court and the reporter got wind of it and called Richardson first thing Monday am.

    Another point of interest, Richardson didn’t hear about it until he was called by the reporter. How did the reporter know a teacher was involved? If this one slipped under the radar, we’d have an (alleged) drunken, face licking, ear biting off, evidence concealing (piece of ear picked up off the floor and placed in mouth) teacher who who had to be subdued with pepper spray still in the classroom after a day or two of “sick days”.


    March 16, 2010
  7. Griff Wigley said:

    KYMN has a blog post that includes a statement from Richardson:


    “The school district is just beginning its administrative investigation of the incident. At the time when the school district knows more, any ability of the school district to share additional information with the public will be subject to federal and state data privacy laws. Ms. Mukuhi Mwarabu has been placed on administrative leave pending the completion of the administrative investigation. The school district feels it is not appropriate to speculate on any formal action that could be taken prior to the completion of that investigation.”

    How about some other details, Chris?

    * Who’s taking over Mrs. Mwarabu’s classes?
    * What’s been the communications plan with faculty, staff and students?
    * Why was the scheduled parent meeting for tonight canceled?
    * Has anyone from the District spoken with Mrs. Mwarabu?

    A little straight talk from you would be good, instead of the impersonal “the school district is… school district knows… the school district feels…”

    March 16, 2010
  8. Griff Wigley said:

    I just got this email from Chris Richardson:



    We just issued the attached statement (in word format) to the Northfield News and KYMN concerning this incident and clarifying the timeline of our response.

    In addition to the statement, I want to share with you that Middle School Crisis Team met today and has come up with the following plan for today. An administrator or counselor will meet with each class period for the first few minutes of class for this specific assignment. Guidance staff will meet with each 6th grade team during their common prep to discuss how to communicate to students on each team.

    The crisis team will meet toward the end of the day to review the district response and determine a communication strategy for all students. Our priority today is keeping things as routine as possible.


    TO: Northfield News, KYMN Radio

    FROM: Dr. L. Chris Richardson, Superintendent

    CC: Northfield Schools Board of Education

    DATE: March 16, 2010

    SUBJECT: Northfield Middle School teacher charged with assault

    A Northfield Middle School teacher, Susan Mukuhi Mwarabu, was arrested and charged with assault on Sunday March 14, by the St. Paul Police Department. The school district only became aware of these charges when a reporter from the St. Paul Pioneer Press contacted the district at 5:00 p.m. Monday evening to verify that Ms. Mukuhi Mwarabu is an employee of the school district. The middle school had received contact from Ms. Mukuhi Mwarabu’s home earlier in the day indicating that she was home sick on Monday.

    The school district is just beginning its administrative investigation of the incident. At the time when the school district knows more, any ability of the school district to share additional information with the public will be subject to federal and state data privacy laws. Ms. Mukuhi Mwarabu has been placed on administrative leave pending the completion of the administrative investigation. The school district feels it is not appropriate to speculate on any formal action that could be taken prior to the completion of that investigation.

    March 16, 2010
  9. Griff Wigley said:

    The Northfield News just posted a story with this slightly over-the-top headline:

    Teacher charged with biting off man’s ear

    To their credit, they’re using a respectable photo of Mwarabu instead of the one circulating online from the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Dept.

    March 16, 2010
  10. Patrick Enders said:

    So: the Supt. learned of the incident last night, after school closed. The teacher has not been back to school, and has been placed on leave. The school administrators have released a statement, and are planning to talk to all of the teachers’ students today, and make further plans going forward.

    Sounds like the school district is as on-top of this as can be expected so early after learning of such an unfortunate situation.

    March 16, 2010
  11. Griff Wigley said:

    Chris Richardson emailed this reply to my questions (I’ve put my questions in bold):



    Here are the answers to your questions.

    * Why not post regular updates on this to the District’s web site?

    This is a sensitive personnel issue which I do not believe would ever be appropriate for posting on the District’s web site. Information for middle school students and parents about the buildings efforts to support students during this time will be communicated directly with them in classes and through written and email correspondence.

    * Who’s taking over Mrs. Mwarabu’s classes?

    Obviously a short term sub was hired for yesterday and today. Given the uncertain length of the administrative leave, the building administration will be determining the most appropriate long term sub to hire to support the learning of the students in her classes.

    * Why was the Middle School parent meeting for current 6th and 7th grade registration scheduled for tonight canceled?

    As a point of clarification:

    1. The annual Middle School parent meeting for the upcoming school year registration process was originally scheduled for March 16, 2010.

    2. The meeting typically has low attendance so the Guidance Office made a decision on Feb. 22, 2010 to cancel the meeting and communicate with parents directly at the Parent Teacher conferences which were held on Feb. 25 and March 2.

    3. The notice of the March 16 meeting cancellation was distributed to all parents in their parent/teacher conference materials packet given out at the conferences.

    * Has anyone from the District spoken/tried to speak with Mrs. Mwarabu?

    Both the Building Principal and Director of Human Resources and Technology have been in contact with the teacher.


    L. Chris Richardson, Ph.D.

    March 16, 2010
  12. Griff Wigley said:

    I think 14 hours is a looooong time to wait before issuing any kind of statement, Patrick. Why do you have such low expectations?

    March 16, 2010
  13. Kathie Galotti said:

    I agree. If my kid were in that sixth grade team, I would be appalled that the school district knowingly let me send that child to school without giving me a heads up. The district feels VERY FREE to pepper me with lots of irrelevant emails (the NHS principal does this in lieu of newsletters–more convenient for him, apparently), so they can DAMN WELL notify parents in the evenings when a crisis that is highly relevant to parents pops up. SHAME ON THEM!

    March 16, 2010
  14. Randy Jennings said:

    Whoa there, vigilantes. Before you conflate allegations about the alleged behavior of an individual teacher — on a weekend, outside the classroom — into a school district crisis, take a moment to read this article from the New York Times magazine on the phenomenon of human search engine vigilante-ism in China. Looks a lot like the direction Locally Grown is heading.


    March 16, 2010
  15. Patrick Enders said:

    Why do you have such high expectations? Some things can wait ’til morning.

    The majority of those 14 hours are traditionally set aside for sleep, and the teacher in question was not at school, either yesterday or today. As it was, the school managed to develop a planned, appropriate response to the situation in -2 business hours.

    March 16, 2010
  16. Kathie Galotti said:

    I’m not seeing the connection Randy. Has anyone suggested physically punishing the teacher? No. Has anyone suggested firing her without due process? No.

    The issue is, given the heinous and brutal nature of her attack, it calls into question her fitness to be interacting with kids. The move to put her on (presumably paid) administrative leave is fine–innocent until proven guility–but on the chance that the charges are true, remove her from the kids! And notify the parents! In as timely a way as you do when you notify them not to use a particular road on Wednesday mornings!

    The broader issue is to get the school district to think as much about kids as they do about teachers’ needs. The “hot” issue here shouldn’t be solely focussed on Ms. Mwarbu’s privacy rights–parents have an absolute right to have timely information about such an obscenely horrific event, and to know what steps the administrators are taking to think about the kids.

    March 16, 2010
  17. Kathie Galotti said:

    Patrick—I would bet quite a lot of my assets that, absent Griff’s post this am, the school district (aka Dr. R and his PR team) would have tried to bury this under the rug. Of course, we’ll never know for sure. Griff could have waited a few days then played “gotcha”–but he chose to err on the side of safety for kids and transparency for their parents.

    March 16, 2010
  18. Curt Benson said:

    So Randy, you’re OK with Northfield teachers engaging in cannibalism, as long as it is outside the classroom? (the last strib article says the teacher ingested the ear part.)

    Actually, Randy I agree with you about not conflating this into a school district crisis. Griff, I think the school district’s timing was just fine. I don’t think the alleged perpetrator was about to run amok at the middle school, biting off appendages today. Richardson’s response seems exactly right to me.

    March 16, 2010
  19. Griff Wigley said:

    Northfield News Managing Editor Regional Editor Jaci Smith just posted this on someone’s Facebook Wall:

    wahoo! Lots of hits on the ole Web site today! Did you see the Pioneer Press is reporting that she put the ear back in her mouth as she left the place. totally cool.

    March 16, 2010
  20. Cathy Malecha said:

    With this newest fiasco within the Northfield Middle School, it further validates my decision to remove my children from the Northfield district – or until they are past the years of attending the Northfield Middle School. The lack of communication and continually turning a blind eye to things that parents should be made aware of is sickening.

    March 16, 2010
  21. Cathy Malecha said:

    This is written by the managing editor? Totally tasteless is more like it.

    March 16, 2010
  22. Jane Moline said:

    I have worked in large corporations and we had our own label for the above: “Recruiting error.”

    We always wish we could spot how someone’s personality would fit into an organization. Sometimes we are wrong.

    With the number of witnesses I think we can safely assume that the incident occurred pretty much as described. Disgusting behavior for anyone.

    I am not surprised that the school district muffed the response. How do you respond when one of your employee’s licks somebody’s face, then licks somebody elses’ face, and THEN bites off the ear and EATS IT! YUCK! It is difficult to imagine and plan for this type of situation.

    However, I think the administrators can all put together an excellent power point presentation for the next school board meeting (of course redacting WHO is involved for privacy reasons, and what happened for privacy and discretion reasons, and mostly just talk about their new super plan for addressing this type of behavior in the future. No doubt the school board meeting will be one of the best attended.

    In addition, now the school can claim that they have to pay attention to this behavior and do not have time to deal with a certain middle-school teacher who has so many complaints against him –this new situation makes the old one seem lame.

    March 16, 2010
  23. Kathie Galotti said:

    Loved your post, Jane! And, well said!

    March 16, 2010
  24. Joy Riggs said:

    I feel compelled to add my comments, as a parent of a student in Ms. Mwarabu’s class. It’s a horrible situation, and I’m stunned by the news. But I think it would be helpful to everyone involved if people would take a deep breath and hold off on knee-jerk reactions and conclusions.

    Ms. Mwarabu is one of my son’s favorite teachers, and although it will be difficult to talk to him about this situation, I see it as vital that parents take this opportunity to do so. Talk to your kids about the consequences of alcohol, about making bad choices. Talk about how it’s best not to judge situations before all the information is known. Talk about role models, expectations and forgiveness, and the challenges of living in this 24-news cycle world. Just talk. And, most importantly, listen to your kids.

    Yes, I would have appreciated a little more notice this morning – maybe an email from the principal, before reading the news first on locallygrown. But that’s not my concern. My concern is my son, and his feelings.

    March 16, 2010
  25. Patrick Enders said:

    Thanks for your sensible advice.

    I also caught some disturbing coverage of the Chinese “human search engine” vigilantism on NPR about a week ago. It can be heard here:

    March 16, 2010
  26. Griff Wigley said:

    My mistake. Jaci Smith is Regional Editor for four area Mainstream Publications LLC newspapers. I’m pretty sure the four are the Northfield News, Faribault Daily News, The Kenyon Leader, and the Lonsdale Area News-Review. She used to be Northfield News Managing Editor but now Suzi Rook has that position.

    March 16, 2010
  27. Randy Jennings said:

    Kathie, please give the NYT piece another read. I didn’t say Locally Grown was there (yet), just that that seems to be the accusatory direction we’re headed in many posts and comments, and it’s a slippery slope. Look at the language in your comment, based on (I’m presuming you weren’t in St. Paul to witness the event) only what you’ve read in the PP and the Strib, plus Griff’s commentary: “heinous and brutal nature of her attack,” “obscenely horrific event.” Shouldn’t those descriptors be held in reserve for serial murders, genocide or war crimes? If the news reports are to be believed, I’d go as far as “disgusting, inexcusable, drunken behavior.” But, with worse things happening in the world, maybe hold there, pending release of the security camera footage…

    Curt, I missed the little smiley face that indicates winking hyperbole in 13.2. Cannibalism? Really? See above.

    March 16, 2010
  28. Griff Wigley said:

    Randy, you’ve mistakenly attributed Kathie’s words to me.

    March 16, 2010
  29. Kathie Galotti said:

    Sorry Randy, but in my book, biting off another person’s body part, then eating it, is brutal. No, I didn’t witness it first hand. But given the number of witness reports, and the reports of the police, it hangs together as a coherent narrative. And, even if it’s only an unproven accusation, there’s enough credibility to it (an arrest, an arraignment) to warrant removing her (on paid administrative leave) until the matter is resolved.

    And, sorry, Randy, but the eating of the ear piece does fit the “cannibalism” label.

    It’s not something I can overlook or go forward with til the trial is resolved. There is a safety issue for the kids. So, I don’t feel the least bit bad about what I’ve posted–indeed, I stand by every word.

    March 16, 2010
  30. Kathie Galotti said:

    I agree. I only wish he’d sent it in the morning. I talked to a 6th grade parent on the phone this pm–before the letter–her child has Ms. Mwarabu (and likes her a lot)—the parent felt blindsided to find this out from me, rather than from the school.

    Again, it’s a place where leadership and communication would have come in handy. The district can’t control the activities or behavior of its off-duty staff, but it can recognize an issue of concern and get out in front of it, instead of hoping the issue doesn’t get press coverage or waiting for Griff to ghost write announcements….

    March 16, 2010
  31. Curt Benson said:

    Griff, Pesta’s letter says the school didn’t know about the incident until 5 pm Tuesday. You blasted the school district for not having anything posted online at 7 am this morning. I just don’t expecting an online response immediately overnight was fair.

    And Randy, re: 13.2, no I don’t really think you’re a cannibalism supporter–I thought the sarcasm was obvious, but should have used an emoticon.

    March 16, 2010
  32. Griff Wigley said:

    Curt and Randy, I agree, I don’t think of this as a huge crisis for the district.

    But I do think the delay was problematic. Why not get out in front of what anyone could see would be a media firestorm? Chris Richardson and Jeff Pesta don’t punch clocks at 5 pm. And Richardson could easily have helped to calm things down by taking some time to communicate both internally and publicly within 2 hours of the call from the reporter.

    The whole focus my blog post wasn’t about the alleged crime but the district’s lack of a timely response. The media firestorm was happening all over the state when I got wind of it at 6 am. That’s the culture we live in. I think stuff like this can be handled in a way that builds trust and creates calm right out of the chute.

    March 16, 2010
  33. Randy Jennings said:

    No, Griff, I didn’t attribute any words to you. I suggested that Kathie’s language was informed by the two Twin Cities newspapers and by your commentary, as (I presumed) she was responding based on what was presented on Locally Grown, not on first-hand observation.

    March 16, 2010
  34. Griff Wigley said:

    Curt, see my comment above, 13.2.1

    March 16, 2010
  35. Curt Benson said:

    correction, Pesta said they didn’t know about it until Monday at 5 pm, not Tuesday as I wrote. And to repeat, I think a online response prior to 7 am the next morning is asking too much.

    March 16, 2010
  36. Robbie Wigley said:

    Patrick…. I would be pretty angry if I sent my child off to school, especially a young child, and I knew that I could have been informed and prepared my child, but wasn’t. That child was sent to school unprepared to hear a story like this from teachers and other kids, (who tend to get into the drama of this sort of thing).

    March 16, 2010
  37. Griff Wigley said:

    Ahhh, I see. When you wrote:

    what you’ve read in the PP and the Strib, plus Griff’s commentary: “heinous and brutal nature of her attack,” “obscenely horrific event.”

    it made it seem that you were attributing those quoted phrases to me. I was tricked by the colon!

    March 16, 2010
  38. john george said:

    I don’t have children in school anymore (there is a light at the end of the tunnel!!), so my opinions are just an outside observer. There are a few sticky wickets in this whole scenario that affect the way and the time in which the school system reported the incident. 1). This is a woman teacher involved in the incident. 2). This is a MINORITY woman teacher. 3). The Minnesota Teachers Union and the State privacy laws are pretty strict about how and when a charge against a teacher is presented by the district. This is a pretty thin layer of ice for the administration to step out on. I’m sure the district is painfully aware of the costs of any misteps in their actions. In our thirst for full disclosure of events, including all the sordid details, common sense and respect still need to be observed. My opinion is that the district did a pretty good job.

    March 16, 2010
  39. Jane Moline said:

    I am certin, John, that all misogynists and bigots are worried. It is so difficult to deal with womena and minorities.

    March 16, 2010
  40. William Siemers said:

    Jane…So, you are of the opinion that race and gender are never considered during disciplinary actions with teachers? Or, rather, that one should never mention the fact that they have been considered?

    March 17, 2010
  41. Kathie Galotti said:

    Robbie: Exactly right. Exactly. Parents should have had the opportunity to discuss this with their kids before the school district decided what their spin was going to be.

    March 17, 2010
  42. Kathie Galotti said:

    True enough, John. The district does and did need to be careful in what they say. And, they have. No one that I’ve heard on this thread seem to be asking that the district release sordid details. Both Griff and I have explicitly commented, for example, that Mr. Pesta wrote a good letter.

    However, it’s not just the teacher who has rights here. I understand that her rights are union-protected, and those of parents are not. But parents still do have rights, and an administrator with any common decency would recognize that. I would have wanted to prep my kid, had my kid been in this teacher’s class. I would not want to have bureaucratic administrators and counselors be the ones decided what to say and how to say it. I would not want to have to deal or be constrained by whatever spin they put on the info at their meetings yesterday.

    The district recently touted its Skylert system, the focus of which is getting important info to parents quickly. I still do not see why it wasn’t used, for at least the parents of kids in this woman’s classes, yesterday am.

    March 17, 2010
  43. Cathy Malecha said:

    Regardless of her title, you would THINK that someone with her title and someone who writes for the local papers would be a tad more cautious as to what she writes on Facebook. We are all human, and we all have an opinion whether it is warranted or not, but I truly think her statement was a tasteless and immature.

    March 17, 2010
  44. I didn’t learn about this incident until reading about it in the Star Tribune this morning. Representatives of the school district didn’t know about it until late in the day on Monday, and a letter was e-mailed to parents and sent home with students by the end of the school day on Tuesday. That is precisely what I would have expected of them as a reasonable response, and does not seem an slow turn-around time for a piece of startling news involving an employee who has employment privacy rights. Griff, you say “why have such low standards” for communication; I say, why insist on organizations abandoning an orderly, accuracy-driven procedure for collecting, drafting and disseminating information, in order to satisfy your desire for instant communication? There was no issue of the safety of the students that would have required earlier communication. You compound the headache for organizations dealing with an unexpected crisis when on top of dealing with it they feel they have to respond to your cry for “more, sooner, too late!”
    .-= (Penny Hillemann is a blogger. See a recent post titled Snow Retreats, Spring Growth Bursts Forth) =-.

    March 17, 2010
  45. Jane Moline said:

    No William–I doubt that any factors besides biting off an ear and being charged with a crime are going to affect the decision of the school district. Of course, bigots and misogynists will always claim that being a woman or black or both are somehow going to be an advantage–but most women and minorities come to realize it is a continual uphill battle to attain equal treatment–and any perceived special treatment just becomes another barrier to overcome.

    March 17, 2010
  46. john george said:

    Kathie- I agree with you 100% on this. When my children were in school, it was indeed often an uphill battle to get some issues resolved. In this day and age of clamoring for individual rights, and individual accountability, we sometimes have directives that are seemingly conflicting in their applications. Having three daughters that have/are teaching in high schools, I also have that perspective of their experiences. More than once they have had to be protected from parents who were irate that they would have the audacity to give their child an F, even though the student did not turn in their work or participate in class. The fact that we even need laws on the books to cover these actions is an unfortunate testament to the condition of our society.

    March 17, 2010
  47. john george said:

    Jane- Idealy, only the illegal activities should be considered in how any announcement to the parents was made. There are specific laws on the books geared toward protecting minorities and gender which have to be taken into consideration. To say these don’t have to be considered is perhaps naive, if not foolish.

    March 17, 2010
  48. Kathie Galotti said:


    I don’t hear Jane saying that laws protecting gender and minority status aren’t going to be taken into account. I **think** she’s saying that the alleged behavior, if proven in a court of law, speaks for itself. It certainly would fall in the scope of “immoral behavior” for me–we’ll see if the district tries to condone it somehow. In any event, it is clear they cannot act until the legal system resolves the complaint, unless the teacher admits guilt earlier. I don’t think the status of the teacher as an African American woman should have much bearing on the case, and I hope (but sadly, don’t trust) that the School Board will see things similarly. I don’t hear Jane disagreeing with this.

    March 17, 2010
  49. john george said:

    There is one question that bugs me about this whole event. Why did the school district not learn about this until 5:00 pm Monday?
    “The school district only became aware of these charges when a reporter from the St. Paul Pioneer Press contacted the district at 5:00 p.m. Monday evening to verify that Ms. Mukuhi Mwarabu is an employee of the school district.”
    And, by a PP reporter to boot! There is no mention about the teacher coming forward with the incident. If she was not in school Monday, did she just call in as “sick?” I don’t know the laws regarding the responsibilty of police departments to contact schools when a teacher is involved in a criminal act. Do they have the freedom to alert a school district?

    March 17, 2010
  50. john george said:

    Kathie- I’m only reasponding to Jane’s use of the terms “…bigots and misogynists…”. There is legal precedent for wisdom and restraint in making announcements about public employees, and race and gender are written right into them.

    March 17, 2010
  51. Kathie Galotti said:

    I read in one of the news accounts (can’t remember which), that the school district said it had received word from someone in her family on Monday that she was ill. I read also (maybe in the same place, maybe not–I think it’s in the NNews) that Dr. R says there is no policy for employees having to disclose getting charged with a crime. (There’s a part of me that is very grateful for the lack of policy–if it means that this circumstance is highly unusual).

    March 17, 2010
  52. Griff Wigley said:

    Joy, I wanted to thank you for this thoughtful comment. My hope is that the District has an effective Employee Assistance Plan and that it’s used to get Ms. Mwarabu the help she needs.

    March 17, 2010
  53. Griff Wigley said:

    Penny, re: your comment #24, I think it’s unfair for you to say to me, “why insist on organizations abandoning an orderly, accuracy-driven procedure for collecting, drafting and disseminating information, in order to satisfy your desire for instant communication.”

    This has nothing do with my desires. Several parents here have expressed they would have like to have been contacted before the start of the school day, even though this wasn’t a safety issue. I’d guess that many parents of middle school kids felt the same way.

    I’m arguing that the District could have easily kept to a high standard of “orderly, accuracy-driven procedure for collecting, drafting and disseminating information” but without waiting for 14 hours to do it.

    What if there was a safety issue incident, like a more serious version of the bomb incident a few weeks back, one that wasn’t resolved prior to the next school day? Wouldn’t you want Richardson to alert parents and the community with regular updates throughout the evening hours? Why couldn’t his regular updates still be orderly and accuracy driven, one building upon the other as information becomes available to him?

    Richardson spoke off-the-cuff to the Pioneer Press reporter at 5 pm. Suppose the Strib called him at 6, MPR at 7, WCCO at 8, etc. and he spoke to all of them. Would he have made statements that violated the teacher’s privacy? Not likely. He’s a smart and careful guy. So why would anyone think that if he posted online updates at 6 pm, 7 pm, 8 pm, etc that he would somehow become careless?

    Plus, Richardson has no control over what quotes the media use or don’t use. How is that orderly and accuracy driven? How can parents and the rest of the community rely on sometimes erratic news media reports, bloggers included, in a situation like this, or worse yet, in a real safety-related incident?

    With the internet, Richardson has his own real-time radio station, TV station, and newspaper at his disposal, free of charge. He’s not using it.

    And now, days later, where are all the well-done communications that eventually DID come out from the District? They’re not available on the District’s web site. They’re collected here on Locally Grown in a conversation thread. How is that orderly and accuracy driven? Why wouldn’t the District want to be the main repository for all that?

    March 17, 2010
  54. Kathie Galotti said:

    I thought this statement was well done.

    March 17, 2010
  55. Griff Wigley said:

    Randy and Patrick,

    I don’t understand why my mild criticism of the school district has made you bring up this issue of the online vigilantes. That really seems over the top.

    Plus, I don’t see how the phenomenon in China relates to the United States, much less Minnesota and Northfield: 

    From the NPR piece on the human-flesh search engine.

    BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is there something about the structure of Chinese society that has given rise to this search for justice by ordinary people online?

    TOM DOWNEY: Yeah, the absence of a real strong rule of law and the absence of institutional means to redress corruption are really some of the big factors behind why people go to the human-flesh search.

    March 17, 2010
  56. Jessica Peterson White said:

    Well, tasteless maybe, but also not intended for this audience, so the taste issue isn’t really for us to judge. Griff: I didn’t realize your facebook “friendships” were actually just a tool for investigative “journalism”…remind me to unfriend you ;).

    March 18, 2010
  57. Kathleen Vondrasek said:

    I also think this was well done especially since middle students were the target audience.

    March 18, 2010
  58. David Beimers said:

    Grif – you aren’t going to go all C.J. on us, are you?

    March 18, 2010
  59. Griff Wigley said:


    Jaci Smith is not one of my Facebook ‘friends,’ tho I have sent her a request.

    I wouldn’t copy/paste personal comments made on Facebook to here. But she posted that in her role as Regional Editor, mentioning the Northfield News website. A lot of Northfield people on Facebook can see her Wall comment. Thus far, no one is challenging her there on the appropriateness of that comment.

    But you raise an important issue about what’s public and what’s private when it comes to Facebook. I’m willing to consider whether or not what I did was out-of-bounds. Maybe it deserves a separate blog post?

    March 18, 2010
  60. Griff, I don’t mean to be unfair but I think this is a recurring criticism of yours that itself can be unfair to the organizations you criticize. Your headline and initial story imply a deliberate and ill-judged decision on the district’s part to delay its initial communication about an issue. The school district does not even put weather-related school delays and closings on its website, which is highly relevant and urgent information, disseminating that information instead via designated media outlets. (I think they now have a text-message or automated phone call alert system that people can sign up for to receive this type of information, and that’s certainly a step forward.) The fact that they don’t post this information on their website implies to me that they don’t necessarily have the infrastructure to easily post running updates to their website outside of the regular school day. You think they should make this infrastructure and posting running updates a priority, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best use of time and resources. Sure, parents want to be notified promptly about important developments. I think in this case the district did do that, just not in the way you were looking for. When coping with something of a crisis situation, they really don’t need the added burden of your very public criticism for not handling things in a different way. The “orderly and accuracy-driven process” is the gathering of information and writing of the statement from the school district, issued in the normal way they do such things. Issuing a series of updates from the earliest stages about an out-of-school event involving a school employee when there is no indication of an immediate safety issue is not necessarily responsible communication. I’m not saying they couldn’t decide to do that, but it does appear to be your view that it is wrong of them not to do that. That’s what I take issue with.
    .-= (Penny Hillemann is a blogger. See a recent post titled Snow Retreats, Spring Growth Bursts Forth) =-.

    March 18, 2010
  61. Patrick Enders said:

    I didn’t bring up Chinese online vigilantism, I simply provided another recent reference on that disturbing topic.

    I do wholeheartedly agree with Randy’s advice not to “conflate allegations about the alleged behavior of an individual teacher — on a weekend, outside the classroom — into a school district crisis.”

    I also agree with Penny’s comments in 28.1 above.

    March 18, 2010
  62. Rob Ryden said:

    I don’t mean to pile on here, but I feel I should also voice my complete support of Penny’s comments in 28.1. I have been disappointed by an accusatory tone that several have taken here – there is demonstrated a “conspiracy around every corner” way of thinking that must hearken back to other situations. I simply don’t see a reason to be so angry and suspicious of the school district in this one.

    March 18, 2010
  63. Griff Wigley said:

    Rob, no worries about piling on. It helps the discussion to both support and criticize… and your tone is perfectly civil.

    But it’s even more helpful to be specific and address the person by name whose comments you found to be problematic, eg:

    “Griff, you wrote in comment #12345 that… I think that was uncalled for because… I don’t see a reason to be so angry and suspicious of the school district…”

    I hope that helps. I’m genuinely interested in your feedback and I think others here who you disagree with are too.

    March 18, 2010
  64. Tracy Davis said:

    Griff, you know I love you, but you’re just WRONG here.

    Penny said it very well above.

    March 18, 2010
  65. Jane McWilliams said:

    Thank you, Joy, for your comments. Without condoning the actions of Mrs. Mwarabu, it is possible to be concerned about the devastating effect too much alcohol had on her judgement and behavior. And to hope that she gets some kind of help for coping with both the cause and the results of her out of control actions.

    Jeff Pesta’s letter was well done – especially the last paragraph – this should be a shared learning experience for us all.

    March 18, 2010
  66. Griff Wigley said:

    Penny, I got gang-tackled by Curt and Randy this morning on this issue. Those bastards are making it difficult for me to hang on to my cherished position so I need more time to either mount a more formidable defense or acknowledge that you and they have some valid points. 😉 Thanks for your patience.

    March 19, 2010
  67. Griff Wigley said:

    As for communications between the District and the media:

    This original story is no longer viewable via a link from the Nfld News home page or news page but it’s still on their site:

    Teacher charged with biting off man’s ear

    The top of the story reads:

    CORRECTION — Information about Susan Mwarabu’s work assignment has been changed in this story to correct wrong information given to the News by district officials.

    Current version:

    Susan Mukuhi Mwarabu, a first year teacher in the district, was charged with felony third-degree assault in Ramsey County court.

    Original version:

    Susan Mukuhi Mwarabu, a first year teacher in the district who works with students who are academically at risk, was charged with felony third-degree assault in Ramsey County court.

    Not a huge deal, but it shows how communications between an institution and the media can easily get messed up, even after 15 hours.

    March 19, 2010
  68. Kathie Galotti said:

    Penny–Actually, the school district DOES have the capacity, and the policy, of putting weather closings on its website. And has, at least for a year–that’s how/where I get that info.

    Moreover, the district has, with great fanfare, introduced a new (expensive) “Skylert” system–the point of which is to notify parents “within minutes” of important information (emergencies, school closings, etc).

    See link here:

    March 19, 2010
  69. Patty Gallivan said:


    I am reading these posts on Sunday evening. So far I am only on post#27, and I would like to respond to your comment about parents commenting and your guessing that more parents would want to know…

    From what I have read here there has only been one parent of a current Middle School student who has commented. Her son or daughter is, in fact, in this teacher’s class, and she is not complaining, nor does she seem to be alarmed with the district’s handling of this situation.

    When I read posts like this I cannot help but notice that there a few people who find fault in anything that comes out of the district, and they put a negative and accusatory spin on things. A few people might chime in with equally as negative of comments, and then some more slamming occurs. Every once in a while you chime in and ask what it is that you are doing that generally feeds into this.

    In my opinion, none of this behavior is productive. What it is is very mean, it’s very vindictive, and seems to have very deep roots on some people’s own agendas.

    Have you ever wondered why you don’t get more comments here from Northfield citizens? This is a citizen’s arena, isn’t it? Most people I talk to wouldn’t leave a comment here, though many do read these posts.

    I’ve never posted here before, though I am ready to stand up to my slam.

    March 21, 2010
  70. Mark Stock said:

    There are interesting points on each side of this issue. As a former superintendent, I can see why in this case there may have been a more subdued response since it was a weekend incident off school property and outside of school working hours. In many cases this might suggest a more thoughtful and slower response by administration while they determine what actually happened and what law enforcement was doing with the situation.

    On the other hand, Griff is coming at this from the perspective of someone with blogging/social media expertise. He is exactly right that current technologies allow for information to be disseminated rapidly and the longer the lag time the more likely the story is to get distorted.

    As a former superintendent who blogged and had a faithful blog following, I can see both the administration side and the social media side of the equation.

    Griff’s point is that parents and families are getting used to “real time” information. Getting the straight story out as soon as possible is a necessity today and is usually a safer way to go then overlly long delays. Unfortuately for the public, sometimes administrators are not at liberty to release certain personnel information.

    Since I am not emotionally connected to this local story I tend to look it at more broadly. This story is a perfect case study in all the issues that administrators have to consider when they decide how much to tell about a situation and how soon to tell it.

    I have trouble finding fault with the administration’s handling of it but then I don’t know any of the players involved.

    I must say however, that I have talked with Griff on several occasions about blogging and I must disclose that I used some of his materials with his permission in my book on this topic.

    Nevertheless, in this situation I think the administration may have responded appropriately, even though they used traditional methods of getting their response out. It still doesn’t take away from Griff’s message that there are tools available to reduce the lag time.


    March 27, 2010
  71. kiffi summa said:

    Thank you, Mark Stock, for also pointing up what is… or CAN BE, productive with a site like this, which IMO is a discussion of the issues we all struggle with, not just a lot of opinions which tend toward uninformed gossip.

    March 28, 2010
  72. Griff Wigley said:

    I’ve changed the title of the blog post from:

    School District mum about middle school teacher’s arrest for ear-biting attack


    School District response about middle school teacher’s arrest for ear-biting attack: Why the delay?

    The fact that the District wasn’t ‘mum’ after 14 hours made that not only a poor choice of words but needlessly inflamatory. Randy and Curt, thanks for driving that point home.

    My inflamatory headline contributed to people chiming with some inflamatory comments.

    For example, Kiffi and Kathie, your initial comments (“the school district is seriously remiss in their responsibility to the community” and “Apparently the “communications” strategy is to go to the bunkers and hide out so no one can ask any embarrassing questions” were unfair and I should have said so.  I’m sure I let your comments go without a “Let’s calm down” type response from me because you were both agreeing with me… always a dangerous situation!

    I don’t think the District was irresponsible or hiding or wrong. I just think they missed an opportunity and that it could have been handled better. A media firestorm was brewing and taking an early, calm, piecemeal and public approach could have easily been done and helped.

    Penny, I agree that to be publicly critical in the middle of a crisis is not helpful and I will keep that in mind for the next time the shit hits the fan here in Northfield no matter what institution is involved. Thanks for that.

    This wasn’t a safety issue but it was somewhat of a crisis, so had I to do it over again, I would:

    1. Blog the news, eg: “The PiPress is reporting this morning that…”

    2. Wait another day before blogging my criticism.

    I also need to remind myself that I since I tend to be more critical of the District than supportive, I need to take extra care whenever there appears to be something urgent that I want to criticize.  I thought I learned this with the heroin story but apparently not. I’ll get there!

    March 29, 2010
  73. Kathie Galotti said:

    Griff, you’re a good man for being willing to rethink your position and publicly announce it.

    I’ve also been trying to listen to others and reflect on their contributions. After this reflection, though, I’m still hung up on two things:

    1) The district HAD the available technology to immediately notify affected parents (here I’m talking only about the 6th grade parents), and chose not to.

    2) The district, BEFORE notifying affected parents, worked on both press releases and “talking points” for their Key Communicator network.

    How can these NOT indicate a lower priority placed on parent communication than on overall public relations? If I’m the only one bothered by this priority order so be it, but I am really and truly bothered by it.

    March 29, 2010
  74. David Ludescher said:

    What ever happened to the presumption of innocence?

    March 29, 2010
  75. Griff Wigley said:

    Kathie, once the window of opportunity passed on Tuesday morning to alert parents prior to school opening, then it would seem to make sense to take care of public relations during the day and then concentrate on parents and students on Tuesday evening/Wed morning.

    I do still think that since the District got the first round of info out to the community between 9-10 am, it could have easily gotten similar info out to parents between 6-7 am.

    Anyone know if this issue was discussed at last week’s School Board meeting?

    March 30, 2010
  76. Griff Wigley said:

    David, are you saying that the District should not say or do anything until after there’s been a conviction?

    March 30, 2010
  77. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks for chiming in here, Mark. I’ve linked your name in that comment to your current blog, The Stock Mark Report, where you’re blogging as Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Wyoming.

    I see the superintendent and the director of curriculum are posting to The Wawascene blog that you started when you were superintendent of schools in Wawasee, Indiana. Nice legacy you left!

    The blog is part of the navigation sidebar for the Wawasee District’s website and is currently featured on the home page because it’s being used by the Superintendent to get input from the public on budget reduction ideas (78 comments) and again here in a follow-up post, with the Superintendent chiming in (22 comments).

    March 30, 2010
  78. Kathie Galotti said:

    I believe in the presumption of innocence. Which is why I fully support putting the teacher on PAID administrative leave while the investigation occurs and the trial takes place.

    And I support student safety. When a credible charge is brought, the affected students should be protected by having the teacher removed.

    The charge in this case is credible, I assume, because presumably the St. Paul police dept had enough evidence to arraign her on the charge. (Ok, it’s showing that my legal training comes from Law & Order episode viewing, so jump in here to point out where my logic has lapses).

    I would further note that in Mr. Pesta’s remarks broadcast to student (see post 27), he makes statements to indicate that he believes, anyway, that Ms. Mwarabu’s actions were very problematic. And there has been no indication that the charges against her are being disputed.

    Taking all of that together, it makes sense to me to place the teacher on paid administrative leave–which is what’s been done.

    March 30, 2010
  79. Kathie Galotti said:

    Wow. A superintendent who communicates directly with parents and taxpayers, willingly and forthrightly. And actually INVITES and responds to their question. What a concept.

    March 30, 2010
  80. Kathie Galotti said:

    I’m gonna have to disagree with you, Griff, on the desirability of placing public relations ahead on parent communication.

    March 30, 2010
  81. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: I am glad that you re-evaluated your word choice in your original remarks.
    However please note that my initial comment (#4) that you mention here was specifically in response to Curt in #2… not a general remark about the school district… so if that was not clear, maybe I also need to be more specific in my word choice so that there is no misunderstanding of what was being referenced.

    March 30, 2010
  82. David Ludescher said:

    Griff: I think that would have been the most sensible approach. Seriously, can the School District provide any information other than news accounts? Unless they are going to test the veracity of the information, then what is the sense?

    March 30, 2010
  83. Kathie Galotti said:


    I think the school district can (and should) have indicated to parents that
    1) they were aware of the news reports
    2) they were taking prudent action regarding those reports, namely placing the teacher on paid admin leave.

    Very simple announcement–reassures parents who may be hearing/reading/hearing about the news stories, and sounding a tone of reasoned and swift response to protect students.

    March 30, 2010
  84. David Ludescher said:

    Kathie: I disagree. How can the School District ever take prudent action based upon news reports? I might be in the minority but I am not reassured by zero tolerance, drug sniffing dogs, and lockdowns.

    “Zero thought” policies might reassure helicopter parents. However, we need to think about what it teaches our kids. It teaches them to over-react and form premature judgments. If this teacher didn’t have a history of issues in the classroom before now, this unrelated, apparently drunken episode off the school grounds on her own time isn’t that big of a deal to me.

    And, I am stridently opposed to using this new technology to spread rumors faster and wider. It just makes it harder to get good information. If you have any doubts about that statement, think back to the heroin story. Public officials are not immune to using the media to serve their own ends.

    March 31, 2010
  85. Randy Jennings said:

    David, I am happy to stand with you on this one.

    March 31, 2010
  86. john george said:

    David L.- The rare voice of reason and common sense in this statement-

    “It teaches them to over-react and form premature judgments.”

    You don’t have to move your mouse very far to see examples of that type of behavior.

    March 31, 2010
  87. Tracy Davis said:

    Looks like The Powers That Be on have pulled the post I was referring to:

    (Thanks…. Rob? Anyway, I liked “” but was not so fond of the rest of the April 1 post.)

    April 1, 2010
  88. Kathie Galotti said:

    That is pretty tasteless.

    April 1, 2010
  89. John S. Thomas said:

    …and that is a pretty horrible pun as well! 😎

    April 1, 2010
  90. Phil Poyner said:

    ARGH!! I feel like such a moron for not having caught that one! My pun-dar must be out-to-lunch today.

    April 1, 2010
  91. Rob Hardy said:

    Yes, Tracy. I confess that I did object to that tasteless post, and it was pulled soon thereafter. I have also been known to remove some of Griff’s and Brendon’s posts from the aggregator because of inappropriate language (and/or quotes from the Vice President). I don’t mind being the resident prude.
    .-= (Rob Hardy is a blogger. See a recent post titled Suspended Animation) =-.

    April 1, 2010
  92. Tracy Davis said:

    Rob, thanks for at least *attempting* to keep us on a higher plane of expression and use of language. I, for one, appreciate it. Though I’m occasionally an offender myself.

    April 1, 2010
  93. Kathie Galotti said:

    The pun was completely unintentional, I swear.

    April 1, 2010
  94. Phil Poyner said:

    Wow, “resident prude” sounds like a cool gig! I’m holding out for “village curmudgeon”, myself. Unfortunately, there are dozens of folks ahead of me for that job!!!

    (And you all know who you are!!! :-P)

    April 1, 2010
  95. Patrick Enders said:

    Phil: Get off my lawn!


    April 1, 2010
  96. Phil Poyner said:

    Patrick, when I was a child my father used to listen to records from a British radio show called “The Goons”. One of the regular characters was a old guy named Willium, and one of his catchphrases was “You can’t park ‘ere, mate”. It has always been an ambition of mine to retire one day, sit around coffee shops drinking coffee and reading the NY Times, and randoming yelling at people “You can’t park ‘ere, mate!” In other words, be harmlessly annoying to as many people as possible…

    Ah…that would be the life!! 🙂

    April 1, 2010
  97. Patrick Enders said:

    The Goon Show! I’ve been looking for recordings of that radio program on the interwebs lately. Apparently, all the members of Monty Python grew up listening to it.

    (As part of my effort to become more curmudgeonly, these days I’m primarily using the internet to learn about things that are older than me.)

    April 1, 2010
  98. john george said:

    The best ones are the unintentional ones!

    April 1, 2010
  99. We listened to the Goon Show when I was a kid (British parents). I even wrote a paper about the show for a college class on “Comedy & Laughter.” (Never got that paper back from the professor, which I’ve always regretted — I would have liked to keep that.) Peter Sellers was the best-known of the bunch in this country.
    .-= (Penny Hillemann is a blogger. See a recent post titled Birdwatching: Keeping a Year List) =-.

    April 2, 2010
  100. Phil Poyner said:

    Patrick, it could be said that The Goon Show begat Beyond the Fringe, and that Beyond the Fringe begat Monty Python! Anyway, if you’re interested in hearing more of their shows, I’d recommend checking out; I think they carry as many as 4 box sets of Goon Show CDs. Also, when you’re checking the interwebs make sure you also search for Spike Milligan…he was the brains behind the Goon Show, and an all-around crazy person (I mean that literally). I actually have Spike Milligan’s wartime memoirs, starting with “Adolph Hitler – My part in his downfall”…I think I bought the first volume when I was 14! By the way, on Milligan’s gravestone it says “Duirt me leat go raibh me breoite”…Gaelic for “I told you I was ill”. The man was funny even past the very end!

    Penny, I wish you still had that paper…such a trove of source material for a paper like that! I’d have liked to have seen it.

    April 2, 2010
  101. Griff Wigley said:

    Strib: Armed teen terrorizes Hastings Middle School

    Parent Angie Brown said the student tried unsuccessfully to enter her daughter’s classroom, leaving the child terrified as she sent text messages to her friends about what was happening. Brown says she’s uncertain how her daughter will respond Tuesday when she returns to school. She said she was upset that school leaders didn’t alert her sooner to the potential tragedy unraveling at the school. “What made me mad was I didn’t find out until my daughter texted me,” Brown said.

    There’s no public comment from the Superintendent yet.

    Note the public commentary attached to the story on the Hastings Star-Gazette website (comments are in reverse order from how we do it so I’ve linked to the beginning).

    April 6, 2010
  102. Griff Wigley said:

    I support the plan to NOT notify parents as the immediate crisis is unfolding. One person commented:

    Nick P./ Hastings, MN / 04/05/2010 10:34 PM

    Jeff R, 100% correct! they have a plan in place for if something unfortunate like this is to happen, and the first thing is not to call the parents…like you said, nothing you or anyone else could do by knowing about it right away, once everything is under control and the teachers are sure that everyone is safe, then let the parents know, no need to have 500 parents rushing to the school and driving unsafely and whatnot to get there.

    Without knowing more, my problem with the District’s handling of it is the apparent lack of communications once the incident was over.

    April 6, 2010
  103. Scott Oney said:

    Was anyone able to get a description of the suspect?

    April 6, 2010
  104. Patrick Enders said:

    That’s an odd question. Since the suspect is in custody, the answer doesn’t seem particularly important.

    April 6, 2010
  105. Scott Oney said:

    Yet you pounced, Patrick, within an hour and a half! What’s up with that?

    But seriously, I wonder if anyone has anything informative to say about the suspect.

    April 6, 2010
  106. Patrick Enders said:

    What’s up with that? Nothing much. I sometimes find people’s interests interesting.

    April 6, 2010
  107. john george said:

    Griff- I’m not sure we are comparing apples to apples between the Hastings incident and the Northfield incident. The Hastings incident involved an armed student threatening staff and students DURING school hours. The Northfield incident involved a teacher on personal time and was never a threat to the students or other staff. I think the administration in each case handled it wisely.

    Just for fun, consider this scenario. Lets say the Northfield incident involved YOUR daughter, and the school sent out a notification to parents without taking time to verify the early reports. Whom would be roasted for that infraction?

    April 6, 2010
  108. Griff Wigley said:

    John, sorry, I should have been clearer. I wasn’t comparing the Hastings incident to this recent Northfield incident.

    I only meant to highlight the issue of District communications with parents and the community during and after an incident.

    For example, how would a Northfield principal and the Northfield District handle communications had an incident similar to the Hastings one occurred here?

    April 7, 2010
  109. Griff Wigley said:

    John, as for your question about my reaction had the teacher been my daughter, note my comment #3 above in which I described a scenario of the Supt. first verifying with the Ramsey County Sheriff that the arrest of the teacher had occurred for the charges mentioned by the reporter. That’s a phone call that would take 10 minutes to make, ie, to verify the arrest before making any public statement.

    April 7, 2010
  110. Griff Wigley said:

    PiPress at 1:28 pm: Woman admits biting off chunk of man’s ear at St. Paul café

    A Northfield middle school teacher has pleaded guilty to third-degree assault after biting off the ear of a man at the Uptowner café in St. Paul. Susan Mukuhi Mwarabu, 30, of Rochester, has been on paid administrative leave from teaching sixth-grade social studies at Northfield Middle School since the March 14 incident, said district Superintendent L. Chris Richardson.

    Richardson said he was not aware of Mwarabu’s guilty plea, which she entered Monday, until contacted by a reporter today. The school board would make any decision about a termination of her contract, he said. The board next meets Monday night.

    April 7, 2010
  111. john george said:

    Griff- That 10 minute phone call would have worked only if the Ramsey Co. Sheriff was in his office. If I remember the time frame correctly, the school found out about this after 5:00 pm. The person answering the phone at the Sheriff’s office may not have had any authority to confirm or deny the charges. Quick communications can only be accomplished when both parties are there to communicate. In my job, I often have to chase people down by phone to get answers, and I know how frustrating it can be. In this day and age, when you make public statements about people, you better be sure the statements are correct. This very issue is driving another thread of discussion right now.

    In answer to 42.2, it might be good to know how this scenario might be handled by the Northfield District. I would assume it would be similar. Do any of you parents out there have anything from the district concerning their policy? It seems that this could be communicated in a general policy booklet so that people know up front what to expect. Ingnorance of procedures produces undo fears and accusations when something like this happens. If the district has been responsible in communicating their policies, then we as parents need to take responsibility to understand those policies before an event happens.

    April 7, 2010
  112. Scott Oney said:

    Griff, have you seen the complaint or any related documents on this one? I’ve found almost nothing on Ms. Mwarabu (save for thousands of recent blog posts). Has she gone by another name (or names) in the past?

    April 8, 2010
  113. Kathie Galotti said:

    John: in 42.3.1 you said ” If the district has been responsible in communicating their policies, then we as parents need to take responsibility to understand those policies before an event happens.” (I’m obviously not good a block quotes, sorry).

    I think you’re hitting on a really important point. No, the district has not been, and is not, responsible in its communication to parents. Not on little stuff, not on big stuff, and therefore, there isn’t the trust that it sounds as though you would like to see between the district and at least some parents, including me.

    I can give you lots of examples. They range from small stuff, like newsletters that come out so irregularly as to be useless; the lack of good information from some teachers as to how my kid is doing in their class (although there is this neat Skyward system, some teachers absolutely refuse to use it–or (like their principal), use it so irregularly that it is useless.) To big stuff–the annual reports about MCA scores–where the superintendent “spins” data to make them look good–instead of being straightforward.

    So, yeah, when an issue pops up suddenly, like the Mrs. Mwarabu situation, where the district really does need parental understanding, forbearance, etc ., the trust is not there that the superintendent is communicating all the information he can accurately. And, yeah, maybe he is and I’m not being very generous toward him. But, again, my repeated examples of poor communication with the district, especially with the middle school and the high school (but, sadly, now starting this year with Bridgewater as well), lead me to be very suspicious about district communication and spin.

    When I have had issues with the school district over my kids, I have (in the past) always started with the teacher before moving to the principal, then to the superintendent. Since my son left Bridgewater Elementary 6 years ago, my communication which has been timely, candid, and (at least initially, private), has not been reciprocated. As a parent and taxpayer, I have experienced stonewalling, prevarication, “spinning” of information in public statements etc. I have seen similar treatment of other families. I’m sure it doesn’t happen to everyone, and I know that some families have very positive feelings toward the school district.

    But speaking just for myself here, the school district has had lousy communication, for 6 years, with me. It’s definitely had a negative impact on my kids’ overall educational experiences, and as a parent and taxpayer, I resent it.

    April 8, 2010
  114. john george said:

    Kathie- Thanks for the feedback, and I haven’t the slightest idea how to do those block quotes, either. I only had kids in the school district for 3 years, ’98-’01, so I don’t feel qualified to give any evaluation of how/what the current administration is doing for communications. I only know of what my three daughters who teach/taught in the middle & high school levels in Irondale, Centennial & Randolph have experienced. Each of those schools had printed policies put in place after the Columbine tragedy, and they were reviewed at least annualy with parents. In fact, Centenial Jr. High was right across the freeway from Lino Lakes Prison, so unannounced lock-down procedures were practiced monthly in preparation for a prison escape. Everyone knew what to expect, so I believe it is possible to have good communications with parents.

    I really commend you for your active participation in your childrens’ education. Karen and I were very involved with our kids, sometimes to their chagrin, but I regret nothing of that involvement. It takes a lot of work when they are in school, but the payoffs later are priceless. Keep up the good work!

    April 8, 2010
  115. Griff Wigley said:

    How about a new blog post titled either:

    A. School District response about proposed year-round school: Why the delay?

    B. Northfield News bites School District in the ass

    Since April 3, the Nfld School Board and Supt. Chris Richardson have been content to communicate to the public through the Nfld News on the issue of year-round school.

    Meanwhile, 645 people have joined a student-initiated Facebook group called NORTHFIELD STUDENTS AGAINST YEAR ROUND SCHOOL.

    On Saturday, the Nfld News gives the issue and the Facebook group front-page coverage: Students, parents voice opposition to year-round school via Facebook.

    Supt. Richardson and School Board members remain silent online while the issue gallops away from them, both online and in print.

    Seems like a communications problem to me.

    I don’t want to discuss the issue of year-round school here, but rather the mentality of the District when it comes to communications with the public.

    April 12, 2010
  116. Griff Wigley said:

    Nfld News editorial: Transparent process needed for decision

    While the district is still a long ways away from a decision on this topic, it seems the first thing it must decide is how it’s going to decide. Will the district adopt a calendar based on what it perceives as best for the students regardless of how it is received by the community or will it use community feedback as the main determining factor?

    Changing the district’s calendar is a huge decision that affects many people in our community, a fact that we’re sure isn’t lost on district officials. We encourage officials, as the discussion moves forward, to be transparent in the process they use and the priorities on which they settle.

    April 12, 2010
  117. Rob Hardy said:

    Wow, I agree with Griff. I’m personally opposed to year-round school, but there are people whose opinion I respect who feel differently. It seems to me that by not taking part in a community dialogue on the issue from the very beginning, the school district administration simply allows opinions (well-informed or not) to harden on either side, creating an even more divisive situation. If the district were to involve the entire community, from the beginning, in the process of becoming educated about the issue, and in the dialogue surrounding it, there might be a better outcome. Or at least the appearance of openness and collaboration might be given to the district’s foregone conclusion.
    .-= (Rob Hardy is a blogger. See a recent post titled Bands in the Family) =-.

    April 12, 2010
  118. Kathie Galotti said:

    Griff: I’m sure the senior administrative staff simply needs time to meet to 1) create a powerpoint on the issue, informing us of what the right opinion to have is if we value education and 2) get out their “talking points” to the key communicators.

    Sheesh, Griff, give them TIME! If they wanted the general public to have an opinion or information, they would TELL US that!

    April 12, 2010
  119. Kathie Galotti said:

    I wanted to ask a question about the non-renewal of Mrs. Mwarabu’s contract.

    First of all, I have mixed feelings about this move–on the one hand, it seems pragmatic to save 15K; on the other, it seems a little weeny to just run out her clock and not stand up and say “This is behavior we don’t accept.”

    But, in light of the thread on Catholic church and moving around molesting priests and whether or not that’s ok or “just the way it goes”, I want to ask this:

    If the Northfield District just doesn’t renew Ms.Mwarabu’s contract, are we implicitly aiding her landing another teaching job? That is, if we fire her, there’s a big black mark on her teaching license that is easily discoverable. If there is no black mark, then another district has to read the paper and remember names. Is this right? And if it’s right, is this what we want to do?

    I am somewhat sympathetic to the idea that it seems premature to permanently close off any route to her teaching, given her apparent successes in the classroom. If she gets help for whatever the underlying issues are, then maybe this would be the right route. But, what if she doesn’t get any help? Does/should our district have any obligation to warn other districts? If it’s not ok for her to be interacting with Northfield kids, is it any better to let her interact with Iowa kids or Wisconsin kids?

    I don’t know the answers, I’m just raising the question.

    April 14, 2010
  120. Griff Wigley said:

    As for what appears on her record/license, Kathie, it’s less relevant in the Google era. Most people doing the hiring these days for larger organizations do at least a cursory Google search on a person.

    April 14, 2010
  121. Griff Wigley said:

    One question I have is, assuming that Mwarabu was a good teacher, whether the District considered using the ‘teeth’ in its Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to require her to seek and complete treatment as a condition for returning to her job.

    In a previous career, I did chemical dependency interventions for businesses and organizations with EAP’s. The basic approach was to gather the family, friends and co-workers of a person to present them with a non-judgmental picture of their behavior.

    This was most effective when there was also a hammer over the person’s head, held by their employer: “Either seek and complete treatment or you’re fired.”

    April 14, 2010
  122. Kathie Galotti said:

    Good point, Griff. If other districts do routinely use Google (wow, that seems so weird to me), then I guess that addresses that concern.

    April 15, 2010
  123. Rob Hardy said:

    Kathie: I don’t know how routinely Google is used in these cases, but I do know that when I was involved in hiring someone for an important position in education, I Googled all of the applicants. I was fascinated to discover that one candidate had been in a position that was surrounded with controversy and potential lawsuits, and that he had left that position off his CV. Google makes it a lot harder to hide your past!

    April 15, 2010
  124. Phil Poyner said:

    In the federal government we also expect references. I’ve never met a hiring official that didn’t call the listed references. And if somebody doesn’t list a reference from their last employer, it’s a huge red flag.

    When googling people it’s important to be careful with what we find. Just because something is on the internet, or in the local paper…well, it doesn’t always make it true. I think most of us try to give the same level of consideration to the applicant that we would want to receive if we were doing the applying.

    April 15, 2010
  125. Scott Oney said:

    Griff: One of my cats is sort of a biter, but it’s pretty easy to redirect him by tossing a Nerf ball.

    April 15, 2010
  126. Griff Wigley said:

    Mwarabu’s letter is perplexing to me. She indirectly acknowledges that she was drunk and says that that’s no excuse for her behavior. Okay, so far. But she then oddly trumpets her ‘owning’ her part and refusal to divulge more:

    Being drunk is not an excuse that I am willing to use. I could have come up with a few additional excuses, or even my own counter accusations to try and exonerate myself. I choose not to! I choose to own my part in it instead.

    Did something happen that night? Absolutely! In my refusal to explain why and what happened to the public, I of course accept the fact that conclusions will be drawn that I might not like, but I think everyone is smart enough to suspect the sobriety level of everyone at 3 a.m. in a cafe following a night of clubbing.

    So for a change, I choose to deviate from the norm and own my responsibility in the unfortunate incident. That it happened is enough of a deterrent for me.

    Most of us who’ve done or said something stupid or hurtful when they’ve had too much drink (yes, even me) have a tendency to excuse ourselves with “I had too much to drink” as if the problematic behavior came out of the container.

    Yes, alcohol loosens our inhibitions, but if the resulting behavior is problematic, it behooves us to examine the behavior. The genius of the founders of AA, of course, was the realization that attempts to ‘examine the why’ is not enough to stop someone who’s become an alcoholic. AA and chemical dependency treatment works best when abstinence is combined with a program of spirituality with lots of family, group and individual therapy.

    I don’t know Mwarabu and I’ve no idea whether she’s an alcoholic. But if she is, hers is not a letter of someone on the road to recovery.

    May 22, 2010
  127. kiffi summa said:

    Harsh words, Griff… How would you possibly, from the distance of your computer keyboard, know whether this woman is on “the road to recovery”?

    I would guess from reading her letter… and this is just a supposition of what occurred as a ‘backstory’ to the incident … that there were some very inappropriate comments made , which resulted in some very inappropriate actions being taken.

    I found her letter courageous, very courageous, in that she didn’t blame anyone else’s possibly wrong actions in providing an excuse for her subsequent actions.

    I must admit to being appalled at your summary comments, Griff, expressed as finite, rather than your opinion.
    Judgements must be left to the courts… and even they admit they can’t always do a fair job of it.

    May 22, 2010
  128. Scott Oney said:

    Griff: According to yesterday’s Strib, Ms. Mwarabu is Kenyan. They didn’t mention whether or not she is an alcoholic. The letter appears to have been written by a native speaker of English, perhaps a lawyer. (“[C]onclusions will be drawn that I might not like, but I think everyone is smart enough to suspect the sobriety level of everyone at 3 a.m. in a cafe following a night of clubbing.”) There’s probably a reason for most of the main points in it.

    May 22, 2010
  129. English is one of the official languages of Kenya and I believe it the primary language used in the schools. An educated person from Kenya has probably been been using English most or all of her life.

    I thought it was a good letter.
    .-= (Penny Hillemann is a blogger. See a recent post titled And Here’s the Male (Goldfinch, That Is)) =-.

    May 22, 2010
  130. Patrick Enders said:

    Indeed. As a former member of the British Empire, the Kenyan education system is still quite anglicized, and most educated Kenyans speak English quite fluently.

    May 22, 2010
  131. Scott Oney said:

    Penny: You have some legal training, as I recall. Can you make any sense out of the letter from that point of view? I thought it was a good letter, too. I’ve never seen any other samples of Ms. Mwarabu’s writing, but if she’s been working here for a year, there must be some, which might clear up the question of authorship, if anybody’s curious about it.

    May 22, 2010
  132. Paul Zorn said:

    I found it an OK letter.

    Some word choices and aspects of the general tone ring slightly off to my ear, and some acknowledgment of disappointed students would have been welcome. But I think Ms Mwarabu gets the big things right. True, she doesn’t forthrightly explain her bizarre actions, but (a) I don’t feel owed an explanation; (b) explanation could be interpreted as self-exoneration; and (most important) (c) she accepts responsibility.

    Whether Ms Mwarabu says the right things about alcohol, or writes like someone on the “road to recovery” doesn’t matter to me. If any recovery is needed or involved here — I have no idea — I don’t expect (or want) to read about it, least of all in a letter to the News.

    May 22, 2010
  133. Kathie Galotti said:

    I’m with you, Paul. I generally applaud the parts of the letter in which she takes responsibility–I think that’s an important message for her students to hear come from her. But, as I read it, yes, there were a few small parts where the tone struck me as odd, so I see what Griff is saying (I read her letter before I read Griff’s post).

    As with you, I don’t need her to give me an explanation, and in fact, I’m not sure what kind of explanation she (or anyone) could offer that would end with “and so I bit off a piece of his ear”) that I would feel would excuse or even partially excuse her behavior.

    May 22, 2010
  134. Scott Oney said:

    Patrick: English is the language of education in India, too, hence the Indian telemarketers and customer service personnel to whom we’ve become accustomed.

    May 22, 2010
  135. Patrick Enders said:

    Yes, and New Zealand, Tanzania, South Africa, Australia, and most of Canada too.

    May 22, 2010
  136. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, her letter wasn’t just a simple apology. She was also trying to communicate something else about herself, almost trumpeting her ownership/taking responsibility, etc and that therefore she now hopes to be “an example for others in the future so that we can get away from being a society of drumming up excuses to one that owns up to our mistakes, fixes them and finds solutions to problems.”

    That’s just weird, IMHO.

    And since I don’t know her, and since she opted to go public with that letter, I don’t think it’s out of line for me to criticize the letter.

    May 23, 2010
  137. Jane Moline said:

    I think that Ms. Mwarabu letter was good. I also think she should relinquish her pay from when she stopped providing services to the school district-she didn’t earn it and she does not deserve it.

    I think it is shameful that the school district did the cheap solution and continued to pay her. It is unimaginable that she would try to stretch out her pay when she is unfit to work for the school district–(being a felon) and when the school is on the hook for her replacement.

    Three jeers for the administration and the school board for showing kids that it is okay to take the easy way out.

    This just goes to show how the school has failed to negotiate decent contracts. The idea that a convicted criminal can hold the school district hostage to administrative hearings is nuts.

    Three more jeers for the teacher’s union for protecting the worst of you–again.

    May 23, 2010
  138. From both a legal point of view (fwiw — my credentials there are very out of date) and a communications one, it stands to reason that Ms. Mwarabu would have some input from others on the content, if not the wording, of the letter. That’s as likely to be true of a U.S.-born person as someone born elsewhere. Presumably she may be subject to a civil suit, and she has to be thinking of that.

    I think she’s in a no-win situation, so I give her credit for this letter. If she tried to explain the inexplicable, she’d get shot down for that. Taking the alternative route of emphasizing her shame, regret, and ongoing sense of responsibility, which to me seem the most likely take-away for a person of character (which she must be to have been the well-liked, successful teacher she’s reported to have been), she’s criticized for “trumpeting” owning up to her actions. If she wrote a shorter, less personal letter she’d probably be criticized for that by some. I have no interest in over-analyzing her words.
    .-= (Penny Hillemann is a blogger. See a recent post titled Mystery Wildflower in Garden: Goat’s Beard) =-.

    May 24, 2010
  139. Kathie Galotti said:


    I share your frustration with the school administrators and with the school board. And you make a good point about Ms. Mwarabu not having really earned her salary since March 15 (or whatever the date of the incident is).

    But, at least WHILE she was in the classroom, she was (reportedly) doing the job–which is more than some teachers in that building have done this year (and that goes as well for the high school). And why (besides ethically) would she give back money when the superintendent is practically begging her to take it?

    May 24, 2010
  140. Griff Wigley said:

    Thx for the link to Patricia Edel’s letter, Kathie.

    June 3, 2010
  141. Rob Hardy said:

    There should be a general post where we can complain about the school district’s poor communications skills. Here it is, the day of my son’s graduation, and I have no idea when the decision to have the ceremony inside or outside is made, and how that information is communicated (if at all), and what the procedure is in either case. I’ve looked on the high school website, and I’ve checked the school announcements every day. Nothing.
    .-= (Rob Hardy is a blogger. See a recent post titled Recommended Poet: Alexandra Teague) =-.

    June 5, 2010
  142. Kathie Galotti said:

    Rob, I’m so sorry to hear about this–I was sorry to see the rain clouds on such an important day. How did it all turn out?

    June 5, 2010
  143. Rob Hardy said:

    The lack of information about commencement was a frequent topic of conversation at graduation parties all weekend. As one senior said, “They’re getting rid of us anyway, so I guess they don’t care anymore.” How much trouble would it be for the school district to send out a little information ahead of time about procedures for an indoor graduation? There hasn’t been a high school newsletter since January! You would think a May edition might be useful to convey end-of-the-year information. Oh well. Commencement was nice, regardless.

    June 7, 2010
  144. Kathie Galotti said:

    And, yet another possible usage for the expensive SKYLERT system we just bought. JEESH!!! If we can’t use it to inform parents about graduation, what the hell are we spending money on it for????????

    June 7, 2010
  145. Griff Wigley said:

    Rob, is this your way of announcing your candidacy for the Northfield School Board? 😉

    And while you’re answering, can you point us to the page on the District’s website with info re: the filing period?

    June 11, 2010
  146. Kathie Galotti said:

    Rob would be great on the school board. He cares about kids and families, he’s taught in our schools (at all levels, I believe), and he’s got an independent mind and the guts to speak up.

    June 11, 2010
  147. Rob Hardy said:

    Thanks, Kathie. I’ve been thinking about this, but my thoughts were too extensive to post as a comment here. If you’re interested, you can click here to find out some of my reasons for not running for school board again. To which I might add: I’m a lousy campaigner, and not enough people outside of the limited LoGroNo audience know who I am. I was flattered to discover that I had about 3,000 close personal friends who voted for me last time!
    .-= (Rob Hardy is a blogger. See a recent post titled Recommended Poet: Alexandra Teague) =-.

    June 13, 2010
  148. Kathie Galotti said:

    Ok, Rob. First of all, I cannot blame you for not running. For all the reasons you state on your blog and because, I truly believe, no one school board member can really effect change. We need like FOUR new school board members. We have had school boards in the past with one or two members who were willing to speak up, to ask some hard questions, to not just rubber stamp. But, in every case, they each just got frustrated and stopped running for re-election.

    I do have to take a little issue (was that even grammatical?) with the following quote from your post though:

    ” I t’s frustrating to come onto the board with ideas and enthusiasms, only to find that role of the board is simply to ratify decisions made by the superintendent. The current superintendent is, in my experience, an intelligent and well-meaning person, and a good administrator. The board can question, and it can nudge, but in the end, it cannot assume the role of management. That’s the superintendent’s job. But it can be difficult for a board member who wants to be more “hands-on” to reconcile himself or herself to the more passive role of advice and consent.”

    I don’t buy it. I buy that school board members can’t micromanage–they shouldn’t be telling the 3rd grade teacher what homework to assign or the hs English dept what books to use–but jeepers! Can’t they tell “management” to get their collective asses in gear when it comes to issues of oh, let’s see 1) PARENT COMMUNICATION–2 way; 2) Doing something substantive about underperforming teachers—ie., monitoring the use of performance improvement plans; 3) Figuring out how to provide quality education to EVERY student–yay, even the “alternative” kids and the ones who don’t fit the white- middle class mold.

    It seems to me that the school board CAN and should do more than serve cookies, celebrate GOOD NEWS at each meeting, and rubber stamp each Superintendant proposal. A functional school board should DEBATE, should (horror–avert your eyes) occasionally disagree with one another, should PRESS for improvement, not simply rejoice over the status quo.

    What am I missing here?

    June 16, 2010

Leave a Reply