Message from Superintendent Mark Sale

Message from Superintendent Mark Sale

On Thursday, September 28, I informed the Swain County High School administration that we would be rehanging the bathroom doors. The doors were removed with my permission during the summer to combat increasing occurrences of illegal and illicit student behavior—other schools across Western North Carolina and the state use a similar approach. The current common assumption is that the sole reason for removing the doors centered on controlling the epidemic use of vapes and e-cigarettes. While this concern factored into the decision, equally and perhaps more concerning was the presence of males in female bathrooms behind closed doors, females in the male bathroom, illicit sexual action, the existence and possible use of alcohol and drugs, continued bullying/harassment, and tattooing. The high school administration detailed these reasons on their website on August 24, 2022.

The high school administration has supplied evidence of a substantial increase in instructional time since the beginning of the 2022-23 school year, supporting the positive effect of removing the doors. Their data also reflects a significant increase in requests to use the bathrooms while classes are in session. During this time, 22% of the disciplinary actions continue to be vape related.

I determined it necessary to replace the doors to address and limit future educational disruption and to try and shield the impact of all this on the staff and administration of Swain County High School. I regret that my decision to replace the doors has caused stress in the lives of the high school staff, especially the high school administration. This group of individuals has valiantly worked to protect and educate our students in the past three years. During this time, they have experienced increased and unmerited attacks, many of which come from social media. As Superintendent, my responsibility is to protect staff and students while supporting educational growth. My decision to replace the doors is solely to fulfill this purpose.

We cannot lose the gains in instructional opportunities from the first weeks. Replacing the bathroom doors without additional supportive measures will likely return behavior to the previous status quo, which is unacceptable. I have directed our high school administrative team to increase the disciplinary actions for inappropriate behavior in the bathrooms. With each infraction of the student handbook in the bathrooms, they are to immediately implement the most serious and appropriate disciplinary actions allowed by policy. These penalties will include implementing multiple days of OSS, legal action, and collaboration with law enforcement. I will publicize these guidelines and the procedures when finalized. Our administrative teams will have my complete support for these corrective actions. The members of our School Board support this directive.

Disciplinary action without instruction is ineffective. Swain County Schools has a history of character instruction using the work of Franklin Covey’s Leader in Me program, and we will increase our emphasis in this area. We will also look for additional opportunities to instruct students toward successful decision-making.

The Swain County School System has a tradition of being a community school system. We are working to overcome the challenge of isolation from the pandemic and the increased cultural divides. My personal effort to overcome this is to establish separate Superintendent Councils for students, staff, and the public. In doing so, I hope we can express our concerns through professional and personal communication. We will always have areas in which we can improve.

I look forward to working with you toward this end. Thank you for your continued support.