The Floodwood student rebellion of 1972

March 16, 1972

Truant junior high pupils wave banners outside Floodwood School on March 16, 1972. Signs supporting the fired teacher appear along with the one shown second from left which says “Rid America of Tyrance,” indicating a need for remedial spelling. (News-Tribune staff photo)

Floodwood embroiled in school row

Students picket in support of teacher

By Isadore Cohen of the News-Tribune staff

FLOODWOOD — This community of 650 persons in the farmland of southwest St. Louis County, about 40 miles west of Duluth, is ordinarily a quiet place.

These are not ordinary days in Floodwood.

The village and the seven townships which make up the Floodwood school district are in turmoil over the decision of the School Board not to rehire Dan Reed. He is a first-year English teacher in the junior high school.

The turmoil boiled up Thursday in a strike of about 140 students, more than half the total junior-senior high enrollment. They want Reed rehired. As classes began, they took up picket signs instead of books. They paraded in front of the school and through the village, waving signs and shouting support for the embattled teacher.

As the day progressed, the ranks of the pickets thinned. Parents came and took some home. Others ordered their youngsters to go back to school. Late in the morning, at the request of Superintendent Keith Dexter, Senior Class President Steve Norman went out to assure the pickets they could return without facing discipline.

The rumor had spread that the pickets would be put in detention for a year.

More than 25 came back to school after Norman talked to them.

Floodwood Senior Class President Steve Norman turns after telling the picketing students they could come back to school with no punishment. (News-Tribune file photo)

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By the end of the day, absenteeism in the school had thinned down to 63, Dexter reported. In the morning, 143 had been absent. That’s out of a total junior-senior high enrollment of 252.

After a long conference late in the day with John Haskell, principal, leaders of the protest said they expected everyone would be back in school today.

Dexter promised they would not be disciplined.

The protest leaders, Andrew Czarneski and John Polo, said they were not giving up their fight to save Reed’s job, however. They took their case to the PTA Thursday night and planned to present a petition to the School Board asking that the Reed case be reconsidered.

The PTA took no action to intervene. PTA members expressed the feeling that since the Board has made its decision not to give Reed further consideration, the solution is to be found at the polls in May.

School Board Chairman John Zalezny said there were no plans at present to hold another Board meeting to reconsider the Reed case. He did not shut the door on such a possibility, however. He said it was possible a meeting would be called “in the very near future” if requested by parents supporting Reed.

About 300 parents and citizens turned up at a Board meeting Tuesday to protest the Board’s refusal to keep Reed. The session ran from 7:30 p.m. to 12:45 a.m.

The Board, at that time, reaffirmed by a 4-2 vote its decision not to keep Reed. It had voted unanimously, on Feb. 24, to give Reed notice he would not be rehired.

Zalezny said Reed had been given an opportunity earlier to resign but he had refused.

Floodwood teacher Dan Reed discusses his complaints about principal John Haskell. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Reed said the request came to him about a week after the student newspaper, Bear Facts, of which he is adviser, printed an unsigned letter to the editor charging that “someone” – by inference, the principal – was using the school’s intercom system to listen in on classrooms. The writer called this spying.

Haskell denies he used the intercom for this purpose. But he said he did criticize Reed for what he considered irresponsible material appearing in the school paper and asked that all articles be signed.

But this was only one of his criticisms of Reed, he said. He said he had begun to have reservations about Reed’s competence to teach as early as last October.

A round-faced blond who grew up in nearby Kettle River, Reed was graduated summa cum laude last June from UMD.

He said Haskell has been “harassing me all year,” that they had had several confrontations during the year over discipline and other matters, and that their differences came to a head over publication of the letter in the Feb. 3 issue of Bear Tracks.

“Basically it’s a personality conflict,” Reed declared.

He said he and Haskell have different views on the basic education system, that the principal does not approve of his teaching methods and that he has had a hard time working with him. he said he felt most of his failures – knowing what forms to fill out and other such things – were only what could be expected from a first-year teacher.

“I am eager for constructive criticism,” he said.

One of Haskell’s complaints was that Reed was teaching the same material to his 7th, 8th and 9th grade English classes. He has two sections of each.

Reed admits he did give all of them the same material through much of the year. But all of them, he said, needed more work in oral and English composition and he was trying to strengthen their skills in these areas according to changing concepts in education.

He charged Haskell has no rapport with the faculty, not just with him.

Floodwood students Andrew Czarneski (left) and John Polo confront principal John Haskell on March 16, 1972, with their complaints about the treatment of teacher Dan Reed. (News-Tribune file photo)

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The student protest – backed by a great many parents – seems to be directed as much at Haskell as in favor of Reed.

A crew-cut veteran of the Army, in which he spent 23 years and retired as a major, Haskell took up teaching at Willow River following graduation from the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He spent five years in Willow River as an instructor in problems in democracy and as a counselor. He came to Floodwood two years ago.

From the start, he has run into problems.

He suspended two boys for growing their hair long in violation of the school’s dress code which, he says, he was under instruction to enforce. Parents of the boys sued and Judge Miles Lord ruled in U.S. District Court in Duluth that the boys must be allowed back in school.

Haskell said he also had problems his first year with suspension of girls who were wearing skirts more than six inches above the knee, also in violation of the dress code. This problem was settled without court action.

Today, Floodwood School has no dress code.

It was Haskell, supported by Superintendent Dexter, who recommended that Reed be let go.

Both he and Dexter told student leaders Thursday they would not withdraw their recommendation.

Andrew Czarneski (left) and John Polo, leaders of the Floodwood student protest, talk with superintendent Keith Dexter and principal John Haskell. (News-Tribune file photo)

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This came up, late in the morning, during a confrontation between Haskell, Dexter, Andrew Czarneski and John Polo in Haskell’s office.

Andrew and John are president and vice president, respectively, of a group known as RAT (Rid America of Tyrants). They said it was organized last summer for no particular purpose other than socializing.

When they came into his office, they joined in angry accusations against Haskell and his treatment of students as well as Reed.

When Haskell and Dexter told them it was their professional judgment that Reed should be let go and they would not change their point of view, John shot back, “This is a dictatorship. Can’t you say something good about Mr. Reed?”

“Is there any way he can get back in the system?”

“In mu opinion, no. Not any way,” Dexter answered.

John and Andrew returned to the principal’s office in the afternoon and talked with Haskell for almost two hours. That session was much calmer, John said later.

During the afternoon session, he said, he and Andrew and Haskell got to understand each other’s viewpoints better. The students came to the realization, he said, that their only recourse was to go to the School Board and try to get it to reverse itself.

—————

In the next issue of the News Tribune, a short follow-up story reported that all the students were back in class the following day, and Haskell was quoted as saying the walkout “was an emotional thing, and we are not going to punish them for it.”

The paper reported that three of the four School Board members who voted to dismiss Reed were up for re-election that May, and that the incident could sway voters.

That’s where our files end… and where you can pick up the story. If you have any more information to share, please post a comment.

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