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.

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

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

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

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

    2. 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.

    3. 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) =-.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Jane,

    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?

  7. 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) =-.

  8. 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?

  9. 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.

    1. 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????????

    2. 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?

      1. 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.

      2. 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) =-.

      3. 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?

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