School custodian receives job back

Ken Kunkle

Enterprise school custodian Ken Kunkle has his job back.

Fired March 9 for what the Enterprise School Board called a breach of confidence, Kunkle was reinstated to his position as maintenance supervisor the evening of March 17 when an estimated 140 people filled the high school library to voice their support for the custodian.

At that public hearing the school board heard the reasons for dismissal from superintendent Brad Royse, counter arguments by Kunkle's attorney Rebecca Knapp, a public apology from Kunkle and six character witnesses before retreating to executive session. Following 45 minutes of dialogue with their own legal counsel, the board reversed its earlier decision to fire Kunkle.

The crowd had trouble hearing the words of Knapp and board chairman Bill Ables, but cheered lustily when Kunkle spoke, when each of the character witnesses spoke and when Kunkle's job was restored.

Kunkle was fired for taking a sensitive letter from school property and sharing its contents before it was to be released to the public. Kunkle shared the letter with a friend, a teacher in the Enterprise school system. The teacher, not named in the letter, was put on administrative leave with pay because a student had made an official allegation of "inappropriate touching."

Knapp argued that the letter could have been released earlier to some Enterprise teachers and questioned whether or not the letter - sent out that afternoon to every junior high school and high school student in the district - was confidential. She further contended that Enterprise school secretary Terri McCready handed the letter to Kunkle and that he did not take it from her desk.

The three-paragraph letter, sent home with students Feb. 26 after consultation with school legal counsel David Turner of the Oregon School Board Association, was signed by Royse and high school principal Blake Carlsen and stated that the Enterprise Police Department and the Wallowa County Sheriff's Office were investigating the alleged incident.

Speaking from the audience Steve Testerman said, "He (Kunkle) is somebody we want around our kids. Give him his job back."

Kunkle tried to address the throng after the decision to reinstate him was made. He thanked members of the school board and Royse and, choked with emotion, could only say "I'm back."

Kunkle was back on the job the following morning.

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