Retiring superintendent who said ‘blessing’ at high school graduation gets harsh going-away present
A Missouri school district superintendent found himself in hot water last month after he after invited the crowd at a high school commencement to stand as he recited a “blessing” — a move that angered some graduates.
“I came there to graduate, not go to church. It kind of ruined the rest of my night,” senior Preston Schaeffer told the Springfield News-Leader last month. “That was the last night of my high school experience, and he chose to talk about religion instead of graduation.”
Kent Medlin apologized for his actions, which included mentioning his “savior” and quoting the Bible at Willard High School’s graduation ceremony, the News-Leader reported.
But it appears his apology wasn’t enough.
Medlin — who months ago announced his intention to retire effective June 30 — was told by the Willard school board Tuesday to leave his position early, the News-Leader reported.
The board voted during a special meeting to place the Medlin on a “paid leave of absence” through the end of his contract, the paper said, adding that he earns $200,000 annually.
The decision was based “upon the board’s belief that Dr. Medlin’s High School commencement speech violated Board of Education policies regarding prayer at school-sponsored events,” the board told the paper in a statement.
Medlin told KYTV-TV by phone after the board’s move that he “thought the best thing that I could do was write in a blessing for the graduates” in his speech.
Four students contacted the News-Leader in May to complain about Medlin’s address, adding that they planned to contact the American Civil Liberties Union and that others were upset as well but too afraid to speak out.
“He asked students to stand up and pray as a Christian, quoting the Bible numerous times throughout. Many students felt extremely ostracized by the situation, when choosing not to pray,” graduate Ashlynn Bradley told the paper, adding that Medlin “invited students to his office for coffee to discuss ‘the Lord.’ This was incredibly inappropriate.”
Medlin said he used the acronym GUTS (i.e. grit, understanding, teamwork and somebody or something that will guide one to the finish line) in his address and told the audience “for me, that S stands for my savior,” the paper reported.
He acknowledged he ended his address by inviting the crowd to stand if so desired as he recited what he called a “blessing” for the graduates, the News-Leader said, adding that Medlin was surprised when many graduates also stood.
Bradley told the paper Medlin has included a “small prayer” at past graduations but that some students asked Medlin to not do that for the 2017 ceremony.
“We asked him to please refrain from doing so because it makes others uncomfortable,” Bradley told the News-Leader, which added that Medlin denied receiving such requests.
Yet Bradley maintained Medlin “got more religious” after his introduction and went further with that subject than in previous years, the News-Leader reported.
“He said you can attribute all your successes to Jesus Christ, and we were like, ‘Wow, you cannot say that,’” Bradley told the paper. “It was like testimony. I felt like we were at church. Then he said he’d say a prayer.”
Bradley told the News-Leader she stayed seated with a few other students but that doing so was “embarrassing.”
Senior Joseph Amundson told the paper he also didn’t stand and was “upset” over Medlin’s speech.
“I thought it was offensive to anyone who was attending who was not of the Christian faith,” he told the News-Leader. “I didn’t stand because it made me so mad that he did that.”
Assistant Superintendent Stewart Pratt will serve as interim superintendent until June 30 and “will represent the district at all district activities during this period,” the board told the paper in its statement.