‘Larger Than Normal Number’ of Educators Absent After Paradise Valley School District’s Book Assignment Controversy

‘Larger Than Normal Number’ of Educators Absent After Paradise Valley School District’s Book Assignment Controversy

By Corinne Murdock |

On Tuesday, a “larger than normal number” of Horizon High School (HHS) staffers were absent following the sudden administrative leave of HHS Principal Linda Inhat amid controversy over her role in the assignment of a contested book laden with porn, lewd stories, and profanity. That book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson, was also available in the school’s library.

Paradise Valley Unified School District (PVUSD) spokeswoman Becky Kelbaugh confirmed with AZ Free News that a substantial number of staff were absent on Tuesday: 34 in all. PVUSD couldn’t respond to whether Ihnat or the two English teachers who originally assigned the book, Brian Morgan and Jay Parizek, were under investigation by the district or by police. It is unclear whether the head of the HHS English department, Rachel Prince, will be subject to any investigative inquiries; Prince defended her department’s work during a school board meeting earlier this month following initial complaints about the book. It’s a class 4 felony in Arizona law to provide harmful materials to minors.

“We are aware of a larger than normal number of absences for some staff, for a variety of reasons, and have covered those absences with qualified staff and substitute teachers. Some of these absences were planned in advance of this week. The total number of absences today was 34,” said Kelbaugh. “At this time, PVSchools is unable to release information on personnel-related matters. We can confirm that Horizon High School principal, Linda Ihnat, is on leave and the assistant principal, Ms. Shelley Strohfus, will be serving as an acting principal.”

AZ Free News submitted a follow-up inquiry to discern the total number of teachers that didn’t plan their absences in advance, or offered a reason for absence related to the book incident. PVUSD didn’t respond by press time.

The mass absences came a day after PVUSD Superintendent Troy Bales emailed an announcement that Ihnat was on leave, as first reported by Arizona Daily Independent. The email didn’t offer a reason for Inhat’s sudden leave.

“In PVSchools, we value the importance of a stable and consistent learning environment and make all attempts to avoid disruptions during the school year. However, this email is meant to inform you of a change in leadership at the Horizon High School campus,” wrote Bales. “Today, we are announcing that Ms. Shelley Strohfus will begin serving as the acting principal at Horizon High School while Ms. Inhat is on leave. An acting principal assumes the day-to-day responsibilities of leading a school during the absence of a school principal.”

News of Ihnat’s leave came days after last week’s school board meeting, during which Bales apologized for the book’s assignment. He promised that the district would take short-term and long-term steps to rectify the issue that led to the book being assigned in the first place.

As AZ Free News reported last week, PVUSD made the contested book the primary summer reading assignment for 11th-grade advanced placement (AP) students, even though several years prior parents had complained about the same book and educators had promised it wouldn’t be assigned again.

Terri Jo Neff, an investigative reporter for AZ Free News and Arizona Daily Independent, explained Tuesday on James T. Harris’ radio show, The Conservative Circus, that this book assignment may present a legal issue with Arizona’s obscenity laws but it would be up to Scottsdale Police Department (SPD) to determine.

“What’s really interesting [about the law] is that it deals with furnishing harmful materials to a minor,” said Neff. “Think of this: if you were to take a 15-year-old student to an X-rated movie, [or] you took them to a live arts act and they were depicting the things that were in this particular book, that would be a felony.”

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.