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Workplace has no place for harassment

There never has been a place for harassment in the workplace — sexual or otherwise. But it’s even more important, in this day and age, to put an end to any behavior that previously may have been accepted or passed off as “harmless” actions or “light-hearted” teasing — particularly when such actions make others feel uncomfortable.

The Howland Board of Education, in particular, is taking this to heart, and in past weeks the board took action to fire or non-renew two longtime workers following investigations.

The first involved very successful longtime girls basketball coach John Diehl, whose contract was non-renewed by the board of education in recent weeks.

Diehl’s record in 26 seasons at Howland is 407-198 with four district titles. In 35 years as a basketball coach, he is 514-289. His Tigers were 12-12 last season, but Howland won at least 17 games each of the previous six seasons.

This winning tradition may have left many fans and Howland residents shocked by the unexpected decision; however, documents released by the school district following a Tribune Chronicle public records request shined more light on the decision to non-renew the coach.

The documents showed a lengthy investigation involving interviews with 26 people, including parents of athletes, assistant coaches, the athletic director and Diehl himself, led to the termination. The investigation determined that Diehl acted inappropriately, harassed and even, as the board described it, used “bully-like behavior” involving players on his team.

According to the investigation, Diehl played “mindgames, yelling, personal verbal attacks, singling out players and making examples of them during practices and games.”

The documents also indicate he belittled some of the girls in a way that many would consider sexual harassment. He made references to players’ appearances, including a list of the “top 5 prettiest girls,” telling a player that if he was 50 years younger, he would have dated her, and maintaining in his office a collage of photos of former players in bikinis.

Then this week, the board fired another longtime Howland school district employee, this time a 25-year custodian, Michael Pawelchak, on allegations of harassment and inappropriate behavior.

Pawelchak is accused of showing a sexual video to other employees while on school property, making inappropriate comments of a sexual nature to other employees when students were present, inappropriately touching another employee and failing to respect an individual’s space.

Per board policy, an investigation into claims was conducted by the district’s harassment grievance officer, and Pawelchak was given an opportunity to respond to the claims made against him before the board voted last week to terminate him.

We are glad to see Howland Board of Education taking a no-nonsense stance on these matters. It is easy to continue the status quo, but that is never the right answer.

This holds true for private employers, but even more so for workers paid by public tax dollars.

The hardline stance taken by Howland Board of Education should be saluted and it should be used as an example by other school districts and governmental entities.

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