AlliedNews.com - Grove City, Pennsylvania

Local News

March 7, 2014

School hearing made public

Father cites land dispute with district

MERCER — A Mercer man wanted a disciplinary school hearing for his 11-year-old son open to the public on Monday, saying he feared potential retaliation for an ongoing property dispute with the school district, among other reasons.

Glenn and Edith Krofcheck sat with their son before the disciplinary board - made up of school board members David Lengel, chair, Lori Kliber and Al Kelly - at the office of Mercer Area High School.

Dr. William Gathers, superintendent, school solicitor Andy Evankovich and school board President Cedric Butchy also sat in on the meeting. Elementary Principal Michelle Dietrich testified.

The fifth-grader inadvertently brought a Swiss Army-style pocket knife to school on Feb. 17, not knowing that he left it in a pair of pants he wore that day, Krofcheck said after the hearing. When realizing he had the knife, the boy showed it to some friends at school, he added.

Dietrich testified that a cafeteria monitor witnessed the boy with the pocket knife and reported him, which resulted in a five-day suspension that he completed on Monday. The principal also recommended that the boy be placed on strict probation for the remainder of the school year, which would only allow him to attend school and not participate in extra-curricular activities.

Dietrich noted that having a knife at school would normally warrant a 10-day suspension but she and Gathers reduced it because the child "is a model student."

But the Krofchecks worried that, under school law, their son could receive the maximum one-year expulsion for having a weapon at school. "My purpose is to make sure due process has been met for my son," said the father, a retired attorney.

He found fault with the board and administration on a number of issues. One included his belief that the hearing violated the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act - which determines how public meetings should be held - because it was not published in a local newspaper or at the school for others to attend.

Normally, disciplinary meetings are closed to the public because they deal with minors; however, a parent has the right to keep one open. Krofcheck said, then, that it should have been advertised under the Sunshine law.

Evankovich said it was an informal meeting so did not have to be publicized.

The father also pointed out that the pocket knife did not constitute a weapon under disciplinary procedures for children with disabilities because the blade was under 2½ inches. His child has a disorder that affected his vision and speech, he said.

Krofcheck measured the blade at 2.25 inches, not including the bolster, stating that was not part of the blade. However, Kliber argued that the bolster could penetrate an individual with enough force, along with the blade, making the combination 2½ inches.

Lengel said at the end of the testimony that he didn't like bringing charges against a 5th-grader, who meant no harm and is obviously a good student. He didn't want the child to be scared, he said.

However, the board is required by law to follow its policies if there is any potential threat to the district - and having a weapon at school is considered a serious offense, he added.

The board agreed to go with Dietrich's probation recommendation for the 11-year-old, easing the Krofchecks' concerns of a one-year expulsion. The disciplinary board presented the recommendation for an official vote before the entire school board later Monday evening, which was approved, Krofcheck said on Tuesday.

There has been tension between the district and the Krofchecks for four years; the Krofchecks own property at 398 S. Shenango St., Mercer, which lies between the high school and Brandy Springs Park, and the district wants to build a $250,000 emergency exit road through the property, which would lead to a park road, then state Route 158.

Right now, there is only one access from the school onto state Route 318. A parking lot would also be built on the Krofchecks' property, requiring their house to be razed. The Krofchecks are buying the property under land contract from a Tennessee couple.

In 2010, Mr. Krofcheck initially won an appeal to the Mercer County Common Pleas court against the district condemning his property, he said. Presiding Judge Christopher St. John ruled that the district did not have an adequate plan for the condemnation, calling the district's efforts a "gross lack of due diligence."

The district returned in 2012 with a plan. St. John struck it down, stating that there weren't enough curative changes from the first plan to make it stand apart as a separate case, according to reports by The Herald.

The district now has an appeal in to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. If it wins the appeal, St. John will have to make a decision on the second petition to take the Krofchecks' property, Krofcheck said.

Krofcheck would settle with the district if officials offered him what he purchased for the property; however, they have offered half that amount, he added. The district has spent tens of thousands in legal fees related to condemnation, according to reports.

Because of the ongoing property dispute, Krofcheck also kept his son's hearing open on Monday because, "It's my opinion they might not have been fair to my son because of the prior cases," he said after the proceeding.

Published Feb. 26, 2014, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.

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