Pickerington Schools principal Ruth Stickel agrees to suspension following social-media posts

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group

A Pickerington Schools principal will be suspended 10 days without pay for political comments she had posted and shared via social media, the district confirmed Dec. 18.

In a settlement with the district signed Dec. 7, Ruth Stickel, principal at Fairfield Elementary School, agreed to a suspension of four days in January, four in February and two in March.

Stickel, who didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, is in her ninth year as principal at Fairfield.

Ruth Stickel

Before that, she taught fourth grade for three years at Pickerington Elementary School and was assistant principal at Lakeview Junior High School for five years.

According to the district treasurer’s office, she receives an annual salary of $107,364 and benefits valued at $26,762.76.

The agreement comes after Stickel was accused between March and October of making or sharing several comments deemed inappropriate and that Zack Howard, district administrative officer, said “caused a disruption to the school district.”

Through an investigation, the district concluded Stickel commented on a news article about George Floyd, a Black man whose death in May ignited protests of racial justice around the world, saying "he was a criminal."

In another comment, Stickel asserted Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, should be charged with murder, stating "his little (President Barack) Obama and Fauci lab in Wuhan is cooking something up."

The reference is to a conspiracy theory that the coronavirus was created in a lab in the Chinese city where it is believed to have first emerged.

Stickel also posted a comment alleging Vice President-elect Kamala Harris wants to make the country a communist nation.

As part of her settlement, however, the Pickerington School board agreed Stickel wasn’t proven to make statements about the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

“The board acknowledges that the conduct for which Ms. Stickel accepts discipline does not include Ms. Stickel’s posting or sharing of a video including the words, 'Black Lives Matter is a Leftist Lie,' as initially alleged,” the settlement states. “Investigator Jessica Branner reported that there was no conclusive evidence that Ms. Stickel posted or shared such a video or words.”

Also as part of the settlement, Stickel waived her right to contest the discipline and agreed to complete 12 hours of training on racial sensitivity, diversity and inclusion.

The agreement for Stickel comes after an incident involving Damicka Bates, an assistant principal at Tussing Elementary School who is Black. Bates was denied a promotion to become principal at Pickerington Elementary School after her posting of a photo of her daughter standing near anti-police graffiti ignited controversy on social media in July.

Bates, who receives an annual salary of $77,444 and yearly benefits from the district valued at $7,439.49, signed a settlement agreement with the district July 24 and stated through her settlement the controversial graffiti was from a technological glitch, was not deliberate and that she does not agree with the language or message of the post.

In October, group of Pickerington parents, students, educators and community members rallied outside a school board meeting, alleging the district unequally applied disciplinary actions against the two administrators.

On Dec. 18, the district posted on its website that it had conducted separate investigations of both incidents and found both administrators violated policies governing acceptable use of social media by employees.

“As a district that values diversity, we proudly represent over 10,000 students, their families and other stakeholders,” the post states. “In these two cases, unacceptable social-media use caused the district to take a stance on issues that are seemingly divisive; however, justice demands that each case is considered on its own merits.

“We are hopeful that these unfortunate incidents can lead to positive change within our school community.”

The online statement said as a result of those two incidents, it has reviewed policies for social-media use with all 1,200 district employees and provided racial sensitivity, diversity and inclusion training to them.

Additionally, the board has created a citizens advisory committee “to address the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the district,” created a Promoting Respect, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Committee comprising staff members and is “revamping its procedures to govern future investigations that result from public complaints pertaining to administrators (including inappropriate use of social media).”   

“These recent incidents, while disconcerting to many, have allowed us to review our mission and work towards what we believe to be appropriate resolutions,” the website states. “Not everyone will be happy with the decisions that have been made, but we believe the mutually agreed-upon resolutions were fair.

“Our plan is to move forward in a proactive manner that allows us to learn from our mistakes while increasing our capacity to lead in a diverse community.”

Columbus Dispatch reporter Alissa Widman Neese contributed to this story. 

nellis@thisweeknews.com

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