Dayton school board members continue to fight over sexual harassment policy

A Dayton Public Schools board member is continuing to push for a board sexual harassment policy after insinuating another board member had sexually harassed her, and said she had faced bullying for bringing up the matter repeatedly.

In a board meeting on Jan. 10, board member Jocelyn Rhynard, who has pushed for a sexual harassment policy for the board since last summer, said she was “disheartened” at the nomination of board member Will Smith, who was president of the board last year, for vice president.

“I’ve made no secret of my concerns related to Mr. Smith,” Rhynard said. “I have alluded in these public arenas over the past several months that his specific behavior crossed a professional line and made me feel deeply uncomfortable. I did not ask for any investigation actions as a result of these events.”

Credit: Knack Video + Photo

Credit: Knack Video + Photo

She continued, “Instead, I was bullied, both privately and publicly, shamed and accused of lying and leveraging the instance the incident as an opportunity. I was intimidated and prevented from completing my work as a board member, all in an effort to protect Mr. Smith’s reputation.”

Smith responded to the accusations at the Jan. 10 meeting, saying the matter had been discussed in executive session with attorneys. He said he took offense at the insinuation that the board was “closing ranks” by nominating him as board vice president, since he had nominated another board member, Dion Sampson, for the role. Sampson declined the nomination.

“I will say that this board has already had numerous conversations and executive sessions and with legal representation on the things that have been brought up, these things have been discussed and brought up with legal representation multiple times with this board and there has been no bullying of anybody on this board,” Smith said.

Rhynard declined to comment further on her remarks, citing legal advice, and has not specified what happened, only that it had happened last March. But Rhynard said she hoped the board would continue to consider a sexual harassment policy.

The board does not currently have a sexual harassment policy, as it was voted down in August because several members of the board abstained from the vote. The only board members who voted in favor were Joe Lacey, Gabriela Pickett, the board policy chair, and Rhynard.

“As a singular member of the Dayton City School Board of Education, I do not have the authority to determine whether an investigation takes place,” Smith said in a statement to the Dayton Daily News. “I categorically deny that I have sexually harassed, bullied, or retaliated against anyone on the Dayton Board of Education. Nor have I encouraged anyone else to bully or retaliate against anyone on the Dayton Board of Education. Furthermore, I have not interfered with or impaired any board member from being able to perform his/her duties. I am committed to my duties as a board member and will continue to focus on improving the educational outcomes for our students.”

At the Jan. 17 board meeting, Pickett, who did not attend the Jan. 10 meeting, said she wanted to address the remarks. She apologized to Rhynard for how the accusations were handled, called for an investigation into the matter, and said the board was setting a poor example for students and staff members of Dayton Public schools.

“This has been a giant elephant,” Pickett said. “I wish that we addressed it so we can move forward as a board.”

Board member Chrisondra Goodwine was named board president for 2023. She did not directly address the situation at the two most recent board meetings, but said at the end of the Jan. 17 meeting board members were fighting for what they believed in.

“Just a reminder to you guys, who are growing up, you are seeing us fight for things that we believe in because when we were your age we had- and we hope - that people would fight for us in the way that we’re fighting today,” Goodwine said.

About the Author