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January 18, 2022

11/26/2021 2:54:00 PM
Controversial middle school teacher reinstated through arbitration

A middle school teacher who showed a controversial video to his seventh and eight grade students was officially back on the job last week.

Chisago Lakes Middle School teacher Jeremy Peterson, who was terminated by the board by a 4-1 vote this summer (story, County Press, June 19) after showing a  video entitled “20 Shocking  on China’ to students without any follow up discussion, was officially reinstated last week.

After the board voted to terminate Peterson in June, he  filed a grievance and requested an arbitration process. In late September, the arbitrator overturned the board’s decision and instead ordered a 40-day suspension without pay for Peterson. On Friday, November 19, Peterson returned to the middle school classroom.

“Mr. Peterson is committed to reconnecting with students and demonstrating his strengths as a teacher,” Superintendent Dean Jennissen said in a statement the day of Peterson’s return.

Although board members at the time voted 4-1 to terminate Peterson, the one’s who spoke with the Press after the reinstatement agreed that this was part of the process and that they have respect for that process.

Board chairman Mark Leigh understood from the beginning what steps could be taken. “I said it the night of the first meeting: this is a process. We made a decision on what we thought was right and [Peterson] could file a grievance and it allows a third party to look at it. That’s how it’s supposed to work,” the chairman said. “Now, we have to get back to work and really work with each other and we have to look at this as a learning experience.”

Board member Brenda Carlson echoed that sentiment. “The big thing for us as a board is that we have to respect decisions that are made and now make sure [Peterson] and the kids are successful going forward,” she said. “Arbitrators have the expertise and we’ll always respect that decision.”

Board member Jeff Lindeman, who was the lone dissenting vote at the meeting and believed that it wasn’t a fireable offense, said he made the decision on the time based on the stated board policy and his experience as a union president with similar matters in the past.

“From that meeting I was the only no vote to terminate and what I said there was I felt the board, human resources, and administration didnt follow their own board policy for progressive discipline as I read it and shared.  I worked under that policy as a union president with the teachers I represented.  I was also concerned the cost to the district to defend what I read in our policy and my experience as a union president.  Furthermore with that experience as a union president in my previous role as a teacher and my experiences dealing with numerous issues like this, I felt the district position was again not following our policy,” Lindeman explained.  “As I sit on the board representing the voters, students, parents, and staff of Chisago Lakes School District, I spoke with that in mind and my decisions then and always will be for what is best as a representative elected to serve considering all in especially this complex situation.

“The big thing, though, is that we all learn from this and need to be sensitive to all students in the classroom. We need to be kinder and more sympathetic. We want the students in the Chisago Lakes School District to be comfortable,” Lindeman continued. “As a teacher and a school board member, I’ve always wanted Chisago Lakes students to be welcome and to create a safe environment. I’m confident that will occur and I do believe that Mr. Peterson is ready to get back and work with developing positive relationships with the students in his classes.”

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