KINGSLEY — The first school board meeting in the wake of Karl Hartman’s sentencing brought pleas to heal — and condemnation of those still backing the disgraced principal.
“If it was my son, would you believe him?” Stacy Allman, mother to a Kingsley Public Schools middle-schooler, asked the crowd during public comment. “I don’t know how the survivors and their families can heal and move forward in this community … with this current attitude of ‘That didn’t happen here.’
“It did happen here.”
Hartman, a longtime educator with a three-decade tenure as an elementary teacher and then principal, pleaded guilty Oct. 4 to three felony counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. It stemmed from accusations he spanked two students for sexual gratification in 2004 while principal of Kingsley Elementary School.
Investigation reports cited grooming techniques — like offering young students alcohol and paying frequent visits to the boy’s locker room while the children changed, the Record-Eagle previously reported.
The 55-year-old initially faced other sex crime charges amid claims from several other boys, which were dropped through a plea agreement. Those initial accusations spanned Hartman’s career.
The community-shattering case brought more than 80 people to the Kingsley High School library Monday night, where they slung heavy coats over chairs and, after filling allotted seats, pulled up more or stood stony-faced, as their peers spoke.
The 13th Circuit Court gallery was just as packed during Hartman’s Nov. 14 sentencing, in which he was given 3 to 5 years in a state prison.
Proceedings showed a marked divide between horrified parents and the dozens of community members who wrote letters in support of Hartman and threw him a pre-sentencing “going-away party.”
Nearly a month later, it’s a still-standing obstacle to healing, Allman said.
She cited the disdain Hartman’s staunchest supporters showed as his victims took the courtroom podium that day.
“Please remember — whatever stance you’re taking, our kids, your student, are watching,” she said. “We cannot move forward on the same sense of normalcy.”
“I feel like I entrust faculty, staff, teachers, people that are part of the community with my son on a daily basis,” added another parent, Nevada Rector. “When I see people show up to a courtroom to justify someone else’s wrongdoing, that that makes my son not feel safe.”
Rector, Allman and the three other parents and community members standing for public comment urged the board to do more — train teachers, revisit district policies and anything else that could prevent such abuse from marring the school system ever again.
“Right now I don’t feel that if my son had a problem or an issue with a staff member, that he would feel right going to somebody,” Rector said. “What are we going to do to make sure our children are feeling safe?”
School board members agreed.
It’s time to realign the compass, said Board Treasurer Clay Skrzypczak, who along with his colleagues, thanked the crowd for their attendance and comments.
“I think this board has done a really good job at supporting our teachers,” he said. “But our No. 1 agenda, in my mind, is kids. It’s not about pensions, it’s not about time off, it’s about the children.
“When we make it a difficult environment for kids to feel safe, we’re missing the boat.”
And there may be more to weather.
An investigation into new accusations against Hartman hit the Grand Traverse County prosecutor’s desk this week, said Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Randy Fewless.
Now, Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg will review that report and decide whether to file new charges.
For now, Allman urges her fellow Kingsley residents to embrace kindness and empathy.
“We have been manipulated by one person and one person alone. Wake up. For our youth, for our students — they should be more important to you than your own personal belief in the situation,” she said. “You might be sitting next to the mother of the most recent victim that has come forward.”