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Education and Family

Public Asks For Transparency Amid Unit 5 Harassment Allegations

Melinda White addresses the Unit 5 school board
Mary Cullen
Melinda White addresses the Unit 5 school board during public comment at Normal Community West High School on Wednesday, April 10, 2019.

Members of the Bloomington-Normal community spoke out at the Unit 5 school board meeting Wednesday night, calling for the district to clear the air on the recent resignation of James Harden.

Harden, Unit 5's former human resources director, signed a resignation agreement last month amid allegations of harassment.

Melinda White was one of three public commenters at the board meeting. She said she was speaking out on behalf of Harden since a nondisparagement agreement prevents him from speaking out for himself.

She told the board to do its homework.

“This man’s character has been impeccable throughout his career in education. Now it’s in question after he made some decisions in his office that ruffled some feathers,” White said. “And—not before, but after—all of a sudden attacks of retaliation and accusations are hurled at him.”

Jodie Slothower also addressed the school board about Harden.

She applauded the good work of Not In Our School for recognizing Unit 5 teachers and staff who create inclusive environments at a recent event. But after seeing how the district handled the allegations of harassment against Harden, Slothower said Unit 5 has a long road ahead to improving its practices.

“How can the superintendent of the school board ask students, teachers, and staff—how can you ask anyone—not to harass anyone, not to bully anyone, if you—all of you—cannot stand up to a person who behaves this way?”

In a GLT report last week victims spoke out about Harden’s behavior, including sexual and racial harassment dating back to fall of 2017.

Slothower expressed she was upset it took the district so long to take action.

A third commenter, Jerry James, called for more transparency and the district to release the results of the two investigations into Harden leading up to his resignation last month. James is the political action chairman for the local NAACP chapter.

The school board is barred from commenting on Harden due to the non-disparagement clause in his resignation agreement. Unit 5 administration continues to refuse comment on the matter.

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