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Resigned Smithville High principal says actions were to encourage students

Rudy Papenfuhs wanted to return to his post as Smithville High School principal.
Rudy Papenfuhs wanted to return to his post as Smithville High School principal.

Since resigning, Smithville High School Principal Rudy Papenfuhs wants the hundreds of supportive students and adults who backed him Thursday night to know that he wished to have his job back.

But the public hearing the crowd came to see did not happen, his attorney said Friday, because the principal and the board saw a chance to reach an agreement without baring accusations and arguments in public.

“It would be to everybody’s benefit” to avoid the public hearing, said attorney R. Mark Nasteff Jr. “That’s why we negotiated.”

Papenfuhs formally requested in the closed-door meeting that he be reinstated, Nasteff said. When the board declined, the deliberations focused on clarifying the principal’s actions that violated district policy.

A joint statement issued after the closed session described 12 policy violations involving personal contact or assistance Papenfuhs gave to students.

The list pared down a larger list of accusations in a complaint published by the district last month after it had placed Papenfuhs on administrative leave.

The statement Thursday included admissions that the principal had provided a student with allergy medication, had a student on his cellphone plan, had attended a Chiefs game with a student without a guardian, drove students in his car, texted one student that he “loved” him and told a sexually explicit joke to students.

Some of the district’s original complaints were removed, including accusations that he had shown an inappropriate video, bought a car for a student and purchased a hockey jersey for a student.

The statement added some language, including that Papenfuhs provided gifts and privileges to students to encourage certain behavior “such as attendance and grades and social media behavior consistent with his expectations.”

Part of Papenfuhs’ intent in the negotiations, Nasteff said, was to remove any suggestion that the principal was “grooming” any students for inappropriate relationships, his attorney said. The district has not made any claims that Papenfuhs had any inappropriate physical contact with students.

“He was leveraging them to be better students,” Nasteff said. “And if that was a violation of policy, he accepts responsibility for that.”

The school board’s attorney, Duane Martin, said the joint statement does not imply any opinion from the board on the intentions behind Papenfuhs’ actions.

“The statement is limited to those facts that demonstrated he violated policy that we could agree on,” Martin said.

Papenfuhs was unavailable to speak Friday, Nasteff said, but he also wanted to express his gratitude for the support he has received.

“He was very appreciative of the outpouring of support from the community,” Nasteff said. “He was very impressed with the student body he loved dearly.”

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to jrobertson@kcstar.com.

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