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10-22-2014

Embattled school
leader steps down
Admits to 12 policy violations

by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark assistant editor

An administrator in the Smithville School District, who formerly worked in Park Hill School District, stepped down Thursday after admittedly engaging in 12 acts of misconduct over a six- year period.

Smithville High School Principal Dr. Rudy Papenfuhs tendered his resignation three weeks after school officials issued a lengthy statement of charges accusing him of persistently violating school policies.

Papenfuhs worked in the district for six years. A number of parents and their children stood beside him and rallied a high level of camaraderie in support of Dr. Papenfuhs, who resigned Thursday, lessening the emotionally charged and highly publicized termination process.

Previously, Papenfuhs did not elect to resign. This prompted school officials to schedule a due process hearing so Papenfuhs could be heard before the board of education. Rather than hearing the claims presented against Papenfuhs by the school administration and the principal's

defense on the night of Oct. 16, Papenfuhs elected to resolve the matter.

Papenfuhs presented the board with a joint statement and an undated letter of resignation.

Papenfuhs acknowledged that 12 policy violations outlined in the statement of charges filed against him “demonstrated” he repeatedly violated board policies. He also conceded the misconduct could result in the termination of one's employment contract.

Despite his admission of guilt, he urged the board to allow him the opportunity to finish out the school year. After a short deliberation, the board discussed his request, and voted to accept Dr. Papenfuhs' resignation effective immediately.

“I understand that Dr. Papenfuhs believes he is justified in violating board policy, but if he objected to the prohibitions in the policies, he should have raised those issues when he sat on the policy committee that recommended these same policies to the board for approval, rather than just going out and violating them whenever he chose to do so,” said Dr. Todd Schuetz, superintendent.

According to a joint statement released by the Smithville School District and Papenfuhs, all parties “sincerely hope the community will join them in putting this matter to rest and turning attention to helping the school in its effort to meet the needs of the growing community.”

“The hope is that the focus and efforts of the district can be returned to its mission of educating all students in a premier learning environment and developing students to serve as proactive, compassionate leaders in an interconnected world by providing rigorous and meaningful opportunities for each student to reach his/her unique and full potential while being good stewards of our resources and investing in quality staff,” stated a document released Friday.

When Dr. Papenfuh was placed on administrative leave on Sept. 9, the district issued a statement of charges alleging upward of 16 policy violations. The list of charges against him was reduced to 12.

Schuetz said the joint statement does not imply that the other violations did not occur, nor does it imply the “intentions behind Papenfuhs' actions.”

“It simply means that Dr. Papenfuhs admitted that he had engaged in these specific acts of misconduct, he violated board policy in engaging in them, and that the board could fire him for doing so. It does not mean that there were not additional acts not listed in the statement that could have formed the basis for his termination,” Schuetz added.

“The district resolved this matter with the joint statement because the statement made clear that Dr. Papenfuhs acknowledged he had engaged in conduct that warranted termination and therefore there was no need to have a due process hearing before the board.”

The Clay County Prosecutor's Office has not charged Dr. Papenfuhs with any crime. But some observers are left wondering whether or not prosecutors could use the joint statement released by the Smithville School District as potentially self-incriminating evidence against Papenfuhs.

According to a three-page document enumerating more than 16 violations of conduct, Papenfuhs persistently failed to obey the school district's mandatory regulations. Papenfuhs was placed on paid administrative leave on Sept. 9, while the allegations against him were fully investigated.

Prior to working in the Smithville School District, Dr. Papenfuhs worked in the Park Hill School District.

“He was an associate principal at Park Hill High School from 1985 to 1987. He went to another district, and then he returned as principal of Park Hill High School from 1992 to 1996,” said Nicole Kirby, director of communication services.

During his tenure at Smithville High School, Dr. Rudy Papenfuhs allegedly shared a sexually explicit YouTube video to a student, told “inappropriate and sexually explicit jokes” to a cluster of students, and made an inapplicable comment to a disabled student that implied the student was “touching himself through his pockets.”

But the violations that most recently landed him in hot water are the allegation that Papenfuhs gave a male student an unidentified pill during the break of two consecutive school volleyball games on Sept. 4. Merely eight days later, Dr. Papenfuhs allegedly handed a male student a medication, prescribed to Dr. Papenfuhs.

“The student had the medication in his possession during the school day,” states the statement of charges.

Just last year, Papenfuhs was warned about maintaining appropriate relationships with the student body. Schuetz issued Dr. Papenfuhs a formal write-up on Sept. 16.

Despite these previous wrongdoings, Dr. Papenfuhs employment contract, legally binding him as a district employee, was signed and renewed on June 19.

The statement of charges released by the district also alleges that Papenfuhs neglected to respect physical and emotional boundaries with students. The high school principal allegedly “pulled certain students out of classes for an extended period of time on a regular basis for unexplained reasons,” and sent a text message to a student stating “There is nothing I don't love about you….”

The school district allows facility members to communicate with students electronically, but solely for educational purposes during the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., states the statement of charges.

School policy also prohibits staff members for sending students on personal errands. Dr. Papenfuhs allegedly violated the board policy when he sent an unidentified student off school grounds to accomplish a personal errand in Dr. Papenfuhs' registered vehicle.

It was also alleged Papenfuhs purchased a vehicle for a high school student, purchased a hockey jersey for a student, and put a student on his own vehicle insurance policy.

“Dr. Papenfuhs has used material gifts and privileges he has bestowed upon students as leverage for encouraging certain behavior by the students,” said the statement of charges.

Since the start of the school year, Dr. Papenfuhs has allegedly taken a student to a pre-season Kansas City Chiefs football game without the presence of the child's parent or guardian. The school principal also attended a Royals game at Kauffman Stadium with a student without the student's parents present.

Board policy prohibits staff members from meeting students outside of a school setting without the parent being present. On several occasions, Dr. Papenfuhs allegedly drove students to the gym and to scheduled doctor appointments.

“These instances exemplify not only Dr. Papenfuhs's persistent violations of board policies with resect to staff conduct and staff-student relations, but also exemplify his willful and persistent violations of Board Policy GBCB which require him to follow directions given by administrators,” wrote Schuetz, the superintendent.