GW principal denies threatening student
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In a Kanawha Circuit Court hearing Tuesday, George Washington High School Principal George Aulenbacher denied a student's accusations that he threatened her for speaking out against an abstinence-only assembly held at the school, saying the teen misinterpreted his words.
Katelyn Campbell, GW student body vice president, asked the court for an injunction against Aulenbacher on April 15. Campbell said the principal threatened to call the college where she's been accepted and tell them she has "bad character" for talking to the media after a speaker visited the school to address "the consequences, both physical and emotional" of premarital sex.
Campbell called speaker Pam Stenzel's presentation a form of "slut-shaming," and an audio recording of the assembly reveals she warned GW students that premarital sex is likely to lead to infertility in women and saying things such as "condoms never work."
In Tuesday's hearing before Judge Duke Bloom, Aulenbacher said he called Campbell into his office after finding out she had contacted reporters but said he was simply using an analogy to explain that he felt "stabbed in the back" because she didn't come to him with her concerns first.
Campbell alleges Aulenbacher threatened to call Wellesley College, where she's been accepted, and tell them that she's a troublemaker. But Aulenbacher said Tuesday that he had no intentions of calling the school and was simply presenting a hypothetical scenario, saying "How would you like it if [I contacted Wellesley] without you even knowing?"
"I didn't mind her going to the paper ... I felt like I had a relationship with her. I have conversations with her all the time. We've talked about a lot of things. She's a good kid," Aulenbacher said. "I hold her in high regard -- I like her. I felt like she could come to me."
While Campbell said Tuesday that she does not feel immediately threatened by Aulenbacher and has no problems with him on a personal level, she still wants him to resign and wants the injunction against him because he has control of her academic records.
"His threatening nature made me uncomfortable and violated the principal-student relationship. If he did that once, he can do it again," Campbell said. "He made me feel like I was alone in this ... but it was my right to complain, and not his right to suppress that. This is my future -- it's something I've worked really hard for."
Bloom asked attorneys Tuesday to look into whether there are age requirements in state law regarding injunctions. Campbell is 17.
When Mike Callaghan, Campbell's attorney, asked Aulenbacher if he was a "very religious man," the principal said yes. He said he agreed with Stenzel's message but told her to not bring up God or religion during the assembly.
Believe in West Virginia, a private religious group, sponsored visits by Stenzel to GW and Riverside high schools. Aulenbacher said he was approached by Joe Holland, a member of the group's board of directors, about the speaker.
Kanawha County Board of Education member Becky Jordon's husband helped pay to bring in the speaker, but how much of the reported $4,000 fee he paid is still unclear. Jordon was in the courtroom Tuesday.
Campbell said she believed Aulenbacher's alleged threat was serious because in another incident, a student's scholarships had been revoked because the principal urged college officials to rescind them. Aulenbacher's attorney, Tim DiPiero, called that claim "hearsay" and said the student in that case is the stepson of Callaghan, Campbell's lawyer.
Aulenbacher said he asked the school nurse to research Stenzel's message to make sure it aligned with the state Department of Education's sex-education policy, which promotes comprehensive lessons including focuses on both abstinence and birth control.
Campbell said she was never taught in health class about birth control, just about abstinence. When she asked about other options, she was told to read the textbook, but the text only vaguely mentioned condoms, she said in court Tuesday.
Aulenbacher said students were not forced to listen to Stenzel and that no assemblies are mandatory. Campbell did not attend the assembly, but said she listened to the recording and heard numerous complaints from students.
GW teachers were informed about Stenzel's assembly via a flier promoting her message of "God's plan for purity"; the flier was not distributed to students, Aulenbacher said.
Campbell said a teacher contacted her the night before the assembly with concerns because she thought she, in her capacity on the student council, had the right to know.
Aulenbacher said he heard few complaints in the days immediately following the assembly but said Ankur Kumar, junior class president, approached him before the assembly with concerns.
Kumar was adamant about the assembly and sternly demanded, "You will show both sides of this," Aulenbacher said.
Aulenbacher said he threatened to call Kumar's parents and have him suspended because he was questioning his authority and disturbing students trying to get to class.
"I said, 'I'm the principal,'" he said.
But when Kumar took the stand on Tuesday, he said he has never felt threatened by Aulenbacher and did not want to see him resign. He said "conversations often get heated" between him and Aulenbacher because he brings the student council's concerns to him frequently.
"He takes an active rule in his students' lives," Kumar said.
Campbell said she didn't take up her issues with Aulenbacher because of Kumar's conversation with him.
"I already knew his opinion. It wasn't going to do me any good," she said.
Reach Mackenzie Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4814.