Education

Students call for return of O’Fallon teacher after months on paid administrative leave

A popular teacher and coach at O’Fallon Township High School has been out of his classroom since the beginning of March.

On Tuesday night, some of his students, their parents and other educators asked the school board to bring him back.

According to his union representatives, JaRon Dent is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a school district investigation. Dent is a special education and driving instruction teacher and a coach.

His supporters filled the auxiliary gym at the high school for Tuesday’s school board meeting, when a written reprimand for Dent was on the agenda.

But school board president Lynda Cozad said at the start of the meeting that board members wouldn’t be taking any action on Dent that night. She said they would postpone votes on the reprimand and a settlement agreement, both related to Dent, that were on the agenda. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for May 23.

Cozad didn’t say why Dent was being investigated, and Dent declined to comment.

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JaRon Dent, seated at left, listens as his supporters speak to O’Fallon Township High School District 203’s school board at its April 23, 2019, meeting when a reprimand for Dent was on the agenda. Dent is a special education and driving instruction teacher and coach. Lexi Cortes acortes@bnd.com

“Please know that first off, the board does not comment on personnel matters and accordingly will not do so tonight except to say that we are taking no action regarding Mr. Dent tonight,” Cozad told the crowd. “... I want you to please note that the board really does take personnel and student matters very seriously, and we strive to make the decisions that are in the best interest and the safety and the well-being of our students as well as our staff.”

For at least an hour, students and parents who know Dent, as well as his peers, family and friends, told the school board why they thought it should reconsider reprimanding him and why he should be allowed to come back to work.

“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t want to come to school,” one student told the board.

“Just please bring him back is all I ask,” another said.

They talked about how Dent helped them with anger and apathy at school. Some called him their favorite teacher.

Language teacher Elena Ahlvin said her classroom is next to Dent’s at the high school, so she hears his interactions with students.

“Mr. Dent shows up for our students,” Ahlvin said. “… He shows up and he follows up. I hear him during passing periods asking students questions like, ‘Hey, how did the game go?’ ‘How was your interview yesterday?’ ‘How’s your class going?’ or ‘How’d that test go?’ ‘How’s your mom, grandma, brother, any number of family members?’

“Showing up and following up matter. Caring matters. I believe Mr. Dent to be a genuine and dedicated educator, one who truly cares about the students at O’Fallon Township High School.”

School social worker David Crouthers said Dent is a mentor, especially for students of color. Dent is one of two black teachers at the high school, where 20% of the students are black.

Cozad said the board would take all of the comments from Tuesday’s meeting into consideration.

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