GW principal tells his side at court hearing
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - New details about the conflict between a George Washington High School senior and her principal emerged in a court hearing Tuesday.
It became unclear, however, whether the case will have any standing.
Kanawha Circuit Court Judge Duke Bloom instructed the parties to return with arguments on whether it's even legal for someone younger than 18 to file for an injunction.
It's been two contentious weeks since Pam Stenzel, a national abstinence advocate, was featured in an assembly at the school. Her appearance was sponsored by Believe in West Virginia, a religious group, and approved by Principal George Aulenbacher.
Some students and parents took issue with the presentation -- most notably 17-year-old senior Katelyn Campbell, who skipped the assembly after a teacher shared with her a flyer distributed to teachers that summarized Stenzel's message and said that "God created sex, He is not the cosmic kill-joy, but He did create sex with boundaries, to protect us and our future marriage."
After listening to a recording of the assembly, Campbell went to the media with her concerns. She called the event an exercise in "slut-shaming" and decried Stenzel's religious background and statements like "if you are on birth control, your mother probably hates you."
Last week, Campbell filed a request for an injunction in Kanawha Circuit Court.
She claims Aulenbacher called her to his office after he heard about the news reports and called her a "back stabber." She also claims he then threatened to call Wellesley College, the prestigious women's school that Campbell plans to attend in the fall.
Aulenbacher's appearance on the stand marked his first public remarks on the incident since the day news of the assembly broke.
When questioned, Aulenbacher admitted that he is a "very religious man," as Campbell's attorney Mike Callaghan put it. And he said he has had prayer meetings with students in his office before school. He never imagined that the assembly would be as controversial as it has been, he said.
His account of the confrontation with Campbell roughly lined up with hers -- but he said he intended only to make a point, not to threaten her.
"I said to her, 'I feel like you stabbed me in the back' ... I said, 'How would you feel if someone called your college and made accusations about you without you even knowing they had made it?'" he said.
Aulenbacher allowed that he was upset at the time and that Campbell left his office in tears but said he didn't know Campbell felt threatened.
"She's been to my office and been upset before," he said.
Aulenbacher didn't call Wellesley. And, in fact, the school has posted on Twitter that it is excited about welcoming Campbell this fall.
A group of Wellesley students and alumni started an online petition praising Campbell's actions: "Welcome to Wellesley College," it says. "We think you'll fit right in."
But Campbell maintained that an injunction still was needed to protect her academic record, saying there is "potential for irreparable harm" if she isn't protected by the court.
"In this case I want the reassurance that this won't happen because this is my future that I've worked hard for."
Campbell stood by her claim that she felt threatened by Aulenbacher's remarks in his office.
"At first he was kind of hostile and defensive," she said. "But then he kind of settled into threatening and intimidating ... he continued to berate me; he continued to carry on."
When asked by Aulenbacher's attorney, Timothy DiPiero, whether she had ever heard of Aulenbacher carrying out threats to another student, she answered yes. She said she had heard that he once approached another student's prospective college to complain about the student and that the student's scholarships were rescinded as a result.
That reference generated a tittering among the crowd -- as DiPiero pointed out, that student is the stepson of Mike Callaghan, Campbell's attorney.
DiPiero was then quick to establish that Campbell didn't have firsthand knowledge of the encounter.
Both Aulenbacher and Campbell said they don't feel vindictive toward one another -- Aulenbacher called her a "good kid," and she said she "has nothing wrong with him on a personal level."
Aulenbacher told the court that Campbell has had a fond relationship with his young children. She spent a long time dancing with his 8-year-old son at GW's winter dance, he said, "and to see an 8-year-old smiling ear to ear when he has a high school girl paying that much attention to him is great."
At prom last weekend, his kids were there again.
"And my wife came out of the dance and said Katelyn was in there dancing with the kids again, and asked me what do I think about that," Aulenbacher said. "And I said it's fine. It's just fine."
Contact writer Shay Maunz at email@example.com or 304-348-4886.