As a Music Teacher on Administrative Leave at SFHS Faces a Closed Session on Thursday That May Decide His Future, At Least 30 Letters of Support Have Poured In

Music teacher Paul Schmollinger with former student, Johannes Köppel, a foreign exchange student from Switzerland, who wrote one of the letters.

Music teacher Paul Schmollinger on the left with a former student, Johannes Köppel, a foreign exchange student from Switzerland on the right, who wrote one of the letters of support. [Photo provided by Saundra Stephenson]

Paul Schmollinger, the music teacher at South Fork High School in Miranda for 23 years, has been on paid administrative leave for five weeks. Neither Schmollinger nor the Southern Humboldt Unified School District will comment on why he has been put on leave. “We literally can’t talk about it,” said Schmollinger’s wife, Saundra Stephenson. Because this is a personnel issue, neither the school board nor the administration is able to speak.

The decision to remove Schmollinger was sudden. He was asked to leave in the middle of a school day, according to one student.

This coming Thursday is a school board meeting and reportedly Schmollinger’s fate will be decided during a closed session. Five days ago, Stephenson asked people who had been influenced by her husband to write letters of support. Former students, parents of students, former fellow educators, and community members have been writing letters in an attempt to influence the outcome. Over 30 have been received since the request was made.

In the letters, Schmollinger is described repeatedly as passionate about his students and an excellent teacher who frequently worked beyond the normal school hours to help his students.

Schmollinger with former student Eli Zevin (when he was a student), along with guitars that they made together as a project.

Schmollinger with a former student along with guitars that they made together as a project. [Photo provided by Saundra Stephenson]

One student wrote, “If Music wouldn’t have been available to me for those last 2 years of high school, I doubt that I would have graduated with a 3.5 GPA or graduated at all for that matter. Paul allowed me to take grief counseling during one of my band classes after my mother passed. He cared about my state of mind and my well being as a person.”

A second said that losing him would not be good for the school. He explained “Paul has been fighting hard for his students as long as I can remember with a constantly dwindling and ever under attack budget and always did the best with what was given. Losing him would be utterly [to] the detriment of the school, let alone the music and drama departments.”

A former exchange student from Switzerland, Johannes Köppel, (pictured above) who later received a Fulbright Scholarship and is now a CEO of a tech startup said Schmollinger “transformed” his life.

Another former student wrote, “He taught us that on our own we were instruments but together we were music. I had played organized sports from youth through high school, but Paul taught me more about teamwork and leadership than sports ever did.”

Lonny Whitlow, a Miranda businessman and former student, said, “If someone asked me to describe Paul in one word, it is “passion…I’ve known Paul for 22 years and in those 22 years I’ve only seen him build up the character of kids…the guy goes above and beyond his duty. Hours and hours in that music room without any pay.”

Whitlow said that Smollinger is “unorthodox…He wears a spider earring and black clothing…He is a topknotch teacher….He has had a stellar career. He is probably one of the most respected teachers at South Fork.”

Lonny Whitlow in the middle presents an envelope full of cash to the South Fork High's music program Saundra Stephenson and Paul Schmollinger.

 Last year, Lonny Whitlow in the middle presented an envelope full of cash to Saundra Stephenson and Paul Schmollinger for the South Fork High School’s music program. [Photo provided by Lonny Whitlow]

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97 comments

  • Usually, while the employer can’t talk about personnel issues due to privacy concerns for the safety of the employee, the employee can give whatever information they want as long as it does not violate the privacy of another employee. To solicit testimony from the public without disclosure is very strange.

    • Very strange indeed.

    • i call bs. the employer can say or write anything that is true. these chickenshit administrations hide behind this “we cant say anything” excuse and it is simply not true. they could say “there have been complaints”, “or the police are investigating a complaint”, or “he has a blue car” if any of these statements are true. school administrations say nothing and let perverts move from one school to another because of privacy concerns that are not unfounded. who do they think they are the catholic church?

      • What if the problem turns out to be false information? No point in letting people know they are doing the right thing. You do not have a right to know everything about everybody.

        • i said you can disseminate TRUE information. if it turns out to be false it wasn’t rue now was it. so if it is true that he was “escorted out of the building by the police” then say that.

          if they are paid with public money and working for the public then the public has a right to the truth. if the person committed a criminal act or violated a written school policy then everyone has a right to know, especially the next potential employer.

          quite often these people are allowed to resign without consequences so that they can become the next employer’s problem. and the administrations hide behind the “we can’t say anything” myth. if its true it can be told, it should be told, and people who hide the facts should be held criminally liable for the person’s next crime.

      • No, you are incorrect. Personnel matters must be conducted in closed session and if the board takes any action during that session, the action must be disclosed. If he is discharged, don’t expect much in the way of reason for discharge, probably some vague “violated District policy” or simply a resignation (indicating that a settlement of some sort has been negotiated between the parties). If he isn’t discharged, don’t expect anything other than his return to the classroom and a response to inquiries like “The District does not discuss personnel matters”.

        Unfortunate for both parties that this has dragged on for five weeks and that the public’s imagination is running wild. SoHum has quite the rumor mill.

        • Generally speaking school boards are made up of the most ball-less ass clown club people wanna-bee politicians. “The District does not discuss personnel matters” because they are not hip to the law and have zero nads.

        • Yes – much of it apparently started right here, as with the word “pervert” above. Idle speculation from idle minds is totally unwarranted.

    • Totally agree. Why only report half of the story? How about consider whatever minors might be involved who are the victims and reading all of this backing of support for someone who harmed them? No, the school is not better off with someone who committed a crime against a child, assuming that is why this is all hush, hush. I hope the story is brought into the light and those who did wrong are all held accountable so that everyone can heal.

      • Proud music student parent

        That is definitely not what happened so maybe you should keep your mouth shut on issues you know nothing about. What a way to speculate and tarnish an amazing man and teachers name. You know what they say about assuming 🙄

        • We don’t know this as we haven’t been given the information. Perhaps you know all the details and can make an informed decision based on that. However, people have a right to be concerned about the safety of their children while on campus. Telling people to shut up, although very favorable in your mission of silencing those wanting answers, does nothing in allaying parents fear or furthermore, restoring faith in Paul and Saundra, which would be a shame if an investigation clears them or if the nature of their removal was nothing of the nature that many of these fears are based on.

        • Saundra Stephenson

          Thanks. 💙🎶

        • Hopefully whatever this is about gets settled with no strings attached from what I read the community & his students hold him with high regards & respects.

      • The State of California has the right to privacy as part of it’s constitution. The Board would be in a lawsuit the minute a personnel investigation was made public. There is no choice about it.

  • Must be serious allegations to be so suddenly such an issue.

  • The school should have placed a subsitute in his place. From what I heard there is not a music/band class.

    • There is a sub there.

    • For the first like two weeks there was no class the students had to just sit in a room and do nothing but now there is a hopefully temporary band teacher (he isn’t bad just a lot of people miss Paul and Sandra)

  • Great. Teacher goes above and way beyond for his students and the music program, very passionate about what he does and makes the music performances very entertaining.the school board has wanted him gone for years because he pushes them to provide what the children need to learn .and fights for the arts programs.the high horse school board needs to see past there POWER trip and keep the teachers that really care about the kids in the schools.the kids that have him as a teacher are devastated.

  • Charles H Wilson

    So where can we can send the letter of support? Our daughter went through his class and his devotion to the kids and music was inspirational.

    This absolutely SUCKS!

  • Who needs to teach music? When u have a “phone”. Fucking sad. Music should override Spanish as a mandatory class. Oh well…. not surprised with south fuck.

  • Our daughter was in his music class years ago and he was definitely going the extra mile to give the kids both a knowledge of and appreciation for making music. He had to fund raise at one point to get the money for the district to pay his salary.

    He was a teacher that taught for the love of his subject and his students, not just a wage.

    This absolutely SUCKS!

  • Only seven reasons I can think of...............................

    1. Musical training helps develop language and reasoning skills
    2. A mastery of memorization from learning compositions
    3. Students learn music to improve their academic work
    4. Increased coordination of eye and hand not to mention rhythm
    5. A sense of achievement from mastery of instrument playing
    6. Students stay engaged in school because they want to attend
    7. Music is a lifelong learned skill

    Apparently South Fork High School District is looking to graduate a bunch of Dummies!

  • Musical Community

    Paul is an exemplary teacher and a fine human being. I worked with Paul at SFHS for several years and have known him since his career began. He is a brilliant creator of musicals, performances and projects with all his students. Not only is he a stellar teacher in the classroom but he and Sondra always go the extra mile, taking students on field trips, to state competitions and the like. Yes, he is is unorthodox and his social skills with other teachers and staff members was always a little difficult. He rarely attended staff meetings. But that was because he was busy teaching kids how to make their own guitars or practicing for a musical and so on. I have nothing but praise for Paul and the positive influence he has had on hundreds of Southern Humboldt students over the years. And we certainly need as much of that as we can get in these troubled times. High school students need a lot of guidance and positive influences, and music resonates with so many of them. Some even say it saved their lives. Please do not let this talented teacher go.

  • Musical Community

    What is the email address to send letters of support?

  • It’s hard to be ok with this teacher coming back when you hear all the roamars from the kids that go to that school but then how are we expose to be comfortable with are kids around this teacher if he comes back, and for not knowing what the hell happened or what to believe, for what went on to be put on leave. And for one thing I made sure of as a parent I made sure my kid got moved out of his class do to realizing that to many students were hurting themselves that were in his class and to many weird feelings as parent to even ? Letting my kid continue music at this school!!!!!

    • Thank. You. This guy is inappropriate and and I’ve had weird vibes since day 1!

    • If you are so concerned about roamars ( I will interpret ‘roamars’ to mean ‘rumors’), why are you continuing to add to the rumors?
      Have you heard of the witch hunts that have plagued society, since people learned to speak ill of neighbors?

      If Mr. Schmollinger was indeed escorted off campus by some governmental agency, and has been under Administrative Leave, one may surmise that an investigation has taken place.
      Because there is absolutely NO information about why all of this has happened, please, as an adult, wait to see what investigative agencies will provide, and do not perpetuate rumors from teens.

      I’ve lived in Humboldt since 1973. For many years I’ve realized that we are The Mothership of Rumors. It used to be somewhat amusing, before we had T.V.s, internet, etc. No one took the rumors for anything more than entertainment. Also, the rumors couldn’t travel very far, they were contained with one’s own watershed, which meant that people usually knew all of the characters involved in the rumor.
      Since so many don’t use their real names when posting, they can just throw around rumors, as if they are facts; or beliefs, as facts. There are no consequences for the actions that can, at the very least, cause deep personal pain.

      I am one of many who have written a letter of support, toward the reinstatement of Mr. Schmollinger. To my knowledge, he has not been charged, and arrested for anything.
      So far, that leaves all allegations/feelings/vibes, in the realm of rumor.
      Please do not feed rumors; anywhere, anytime. Please help your children learn about the history of rumors in society. Please use this as a Teaching Moment about the potential harm from rumors.

    • Proud music student parent

      Do you think if he harmed a child at the school that the school board would even consider bringing him back?! Southern Humboldt and rumors is all this is. A total which hunt. Just because he is eccentric does not mean he is a bad or evil person. My son is in his music class never had anything but great vibes and loving dedication to his students.

    • I expose you believe all the roamars you hear whether they our true or not.

  • So parents aren’t allowed to be there? I’ve had every intention since I heard..

    • Parents and other community members are absolutely allowed to be there at the board meeting, but the board discusses and makes decisions on personel matters in closed session, where no other people are allowed.

  • Regardless of our own experiences with Paul and Saundra, when police escort staff members off campus, we should be very cautious in reinstating someone in a postition of authority and access to minors.
    The reason for his dismissal and any subsequent investigations should be made public. If there’s a single doubt about his compentency or behavior, we must err on the side of caution.
    The rumors are atrocious, damaging not to address and of a nature that should never be taken lightly bc it wasn’t our particular experience.
    If it’s not, my children will never be left in a situation where they are alone with him & band will never be an option for them at SFHS.

    • Wait, he was escorted off campus by LEO’s?

      • Yes and locks were changed under LEO supervision.

        • no locks were changed still have mine that opens that door

          • Bullshit. Everyone at SFHS knows the locks were removed and no one was allowed in the room for over a month. I find it interesting that all the photos were submitted by his wife and the Whole article sounds like a public relations spin.

            No one is removed from a school without some idea as to why and no letter to the board of anything or anyone will allow someone back to a job working with children if it is not safe for them to be there.

            I believe in due process but am actually surprised the reason for his leave hasn’t leaked anyway. Kudos to the discretion of those put in this position in the first place.

            • Two of the photos were from his wife. One from Lonny Whitlow from an earlier article. As to the “slant” of this article, I did my best to present both sides but I was only able to find people speaking for Mr. Schmollinger. None that I’ve spoken to since I’ve been trying to do this article since a couple days after the incident spoke against him.

        • Saundra Stephenson

          No, he was NOT escorted off campus by law enforcement. No law enforcement was involved. I was there. It was administration, and we walked off campus all by ourselves…don’t spread rumors.

          • He did something worthy of being escorted off the property by administration and placed on paid administrative leave for five weeks, but it was not criminal in nature otherwise the administration should have called the authorities.

    • To Concerned, was he escorted off the campus by police? Please elaborate what you know. Thank you

    • Thank you. Yes.

    • Saundra Stephenson

      He was NOT escorted off campus by law enforcement. Law enforcement was not involved. It was administration. Stop talking about things you know nothing about…stop spreading rumors.

      • Then pray tell, what is all this about? If he was removed unjustly, let that be known. If there’s nothing to hide, why are you asking for blind support?
        I’ve seen a lot of good that has come from the time you’ve both been there. I’ve also seen questionable behavior. No one is perfect. The majority accepts Paul for his eccentricities. However, if there’s any question, it must be investigated. Our youth is too important to not do due diligence.
        We’re all ears (or eyes in this case).

      • Please clear up the rumors then. How can you ask for blind support when we know nothing of why you were asked to leave? If it was an admistration call due to concern for Paul’s eccentric teaching style, then lots of people can give their experiences as to their time under his tutelage. However, if the issue is, say, laundering money, his students character references are of no importance on that matter. If there’s been a criminal investigation then we have a right to know as parents of children whom he has access to as a staff member.
        (And yes, lawyers and investigators have been involved, hence my concern.)
        I am also very concerned that more people are not asking for full disclosure when it comes to personnel at our schools. Regardless of a perfect record, or a thousand letters of support, if there has been misconduct, we have a right to know.

        • Your blind condemning is disrespectful. It would be better to judge after we have a few more facts on this matter, don’t ya think?

  • bigfuzzycaterpillar@gmail.com

    /\
    Email for letter of support for Paul specifically. Apparently the program itself is not in jeopardy.

  • My eldest daughter had Paul from 8th grade through graduation. She developed confidence and poise that i do not believe she would have without the support and encouragement from both Paul and Saundra. I spoke with them at graduation last year to let them know that the ‘guidance counselor’ (who is no longer there) had been polling kids in Paul’s classes to find out how they would feel if he ‘were no longer teaching at South Fork’. Not very appropriate behavior IMO.
    Yes, he is a unique individual. No, he doesn’t fit into the round holes – However the kids learn music….and they love him. My youngest daughter left South Fork because she could not tolerate the bullying from both students and one teacher (female, math teacher in Junior High). She is thriving in her current school – 3.8 GPA – and says the ONLY thing she misses from South Fork is Paul’s classes.
    I don’t know what he allegedly (stress that word) die, however I sincerely question anything that is said about him and even more closely question anything that this school board may have influence over

  • This one time at Band Camp.

  • School districts don’t let good tenured teachers go for no reason at all!

  • Paul seems like a stellar guy. He plays bass and Tuba in the Garberville Town Band. As a fellow member of the band, I’ve always enjoyed his contribution. We were sad when he couldn’t get his tuba out of the SFHS band room for our band’s practice and gigs. Paul shared with us that he had no idea why he was pulled out of class. To my knowledge Paul has always been a champion of keeping music at South Fork. This is really important for students.

  • I will add one of the things I put in my letter of support for Paul Schmollinger, just to highlight how important a teacher with exceptional qualities can be to a student.

    One of my closest friends, is now employed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Colburn School (the West Coast equivalent to Julliard). Before working there, she taught drama at a school in Los Angeles, where there were a lot of teens who were struggling in school, and elsewhere.

    A student, new to the school, wouldn’t even come into her classroom. He just hung outside in the hallway. After a few days, my friend was able to entice this painfully shy, slightly overweight young man into her classroom.
    My friend has an exuberance, depth of knowledge about her subject, and love for her students, that reminds me of how I’ve seen Paul Schmollinger be with his students. Paul loves what he teaches, cares about making a connection with his students, and draws out the best in them.

    The student in my friend’s class blossomed because of the special qualities that she brought to all her students. While most students do not go on to fame, and fortune like Jack Black did, they are all lifted by a teacher with an exceptional ability to connect.

  • Mr. Schmollinger began his career at Southfork when I was in high school. I would certainly say he’s eccentric, but most people who dedicate their lives to the “Arts” are. He’s definitely a touchy-feely person( he will put his hand on your shoulder when he talks to you) never struck me as inappropriate though. He definitely seem like a good person to me and very dedicated to what he does. I certainly hope there is some strong evidence for this reaction. There seems to be an epidemic in this country of ruining people’s lives and careers over nothing more than allegations with no evidence. I certainly hope this is not the case. To all the people that suggest that the school would not have reacted that way if he had not done something wrong. You’re completely wrong, in today’s society with the ability to Levy lawsuits against people with hardly any evidence at all and to drag the school through court for years costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars. Mere accusations are enough to make the school have to respond out of fear.
    I would support him until I saw evidence to the contrary. If indeed there is enough evidence to convict him of molesting a child or any other such activities, I would be a staunch proponent for castration. Until then, innocent until proven guilty!

  • Oh my god THC. I Can’t believe you said there’s an epidemic of ruined lives by unsubstantiated accusations. Baloney! Who is even one? When many women come forward and tell of what’s happened to them that is substantiated. I hope you’re not buying that bullshit the president is spewing about men being victims these days. What a load of crap. Ask the women you know and respect. You need to learn a few things.

  • Redwood County Mama

    Interestingly, SFHS new admin forcibly removes the man, and his wife, who has kept the arts alive for the children who attend the district schools. Not just music, but drama as well for decades. Not just at South Fork, but at Redway Elementary Paul taught beginning band on a zero budget. Paul had to drive from Miranda to Redway in record time each day no matter the weather when no time was scheduled for his travel time and then back again to Miranda to get there for students who were waiting. Amazing that they as accomplished musicians have given of themselves year after year and now this is the thanks they are given. Wake up folks. District Administrators have used our district as a stepping stone. More than one administrator has left while still being paid on contract. And how many of our teachers live outside of the Southern Humboldt attendance area? The majority last I knew. Paul should have retired and took his pension with him. He would have been better off. With him gone unless you could afford private lessons your child will not learn music. Anyone with a musical ear cannot stomach the same repetitious off-key beginning songs with failing instruments over and over. It takes someone with patience and commitment. Someone who cares. How ironic that the Humboldt County Office of Education just received a huge million dollar grant to promote the arts. Or is this we do not need Paul??? Well the days of the Mateel bailing out the school district are over. Guess HTA will have to send another bus to carry all of the high school students who will be enrolling elsewhere. Where have all the students gone? Long time passing. Enrollment drops, ADA drops, budget plunders in a downward spiral.

  • Paul is an amazing teacher and human being. He was definitely one of my favorite teachers. He is such a talented musician and educator.

  • Class of 09 student

    He was a jerk and a bully. If he didn’t like you in his class he would try to make you so miserable that you drop it. He has major anger problems. I for one am glad he is gone and I hope they throw the book at him and he loses whatever he has.

    • Class of 13 student

      Paul and Saundra have always tried to motivate people to work hard and to not give up on learning. They two of the most dedicated people in the entire Southern Humboldt school district. Both of them encouraged many students to join the performing arts program and they never excluded anyone. They spent so many hours after school just to help people practice for band rehearsals and performances. These people were not working for the money, but because they are genuinely passionate about the material they teach. They care for their students like they were family. I feel very fortunate that I was able to be apart of their performing arts program, they have both been a positive influence in my life. I hope others are as fortunate as I was to be able to be apart of their program.

  • Does anyone know what time and in what room this “closed door meeting” starts? I will be there with questions for our school board. Anyone want to join me? Let’s hold this board accountable for once and let them know they work for us. Memories of one good teacher at this stage of a kids life can last a lifetime. Paul and Saundra have done so much for so many kids. Last years trip to the SF Opera house was just fantastic. As a chaperone on that field trip I witnessed first hand the joy and fun the kids had while being exposed to an art form they might not get to experience at such a young age.

  • Closed door meetings are just that, closed door meetings, usually reserved for personnel matters.

  • Paul is a good man period . He has had ample differences with many families here but in the end he does a good job and helps teach his unique skills to a group of kids who appreciate him . Humans make mistakes . I’m not sure what the issue at hand is but I can say that from what I know of Paul over the last 20 years i can say definitively that he has the kids education at the top of his priority list . I hope whatever this is blows over for his and the schools sake . He is an Amazing teacher !

  • Hi I am a student from the middle school and I know that my saying dosent really count but I have now know Paul for 2 years. When I was in 7 th grade I got pushed in with the high school students and Paul accepted us and I know that if Paul never taught me music in the time of my hard 7 th grade year I probably would have never
    be here today. Music helped me a lot. So thank you Paul your the best music teacher .

  • There really isn’t much purpose in writing any letters. I’ve seen this type of thing play out before. School administration is fairly unlikely to be able to return him to his position after any type of accusation because of liability. They will string people along because they don’t want to fire them outright, but manage to evade ever returning them to their previous position. He would do well to start looking for other employment. As for being escorted out, that is common practice. We do it at my work when someone is being fired. It’s because they are usually angry and it’s how we keep them from destroying or taking anything that isn’t theirs. People shouldn’t read to much into that.

  • All rumor and imagination and idealism until Paul makes a statement. When will he share with the public what happened?

    There are much bigger problems than this at that school. Students are adapting to a changing economy when many used to be spoiled. The modern world has them all confused and cynical about many things that truly matter

    We adults need to keep setring good examples for the younger generations. These games of telephone do not accomplish much, but if all of us try to be exemplary and have faith in the bigger picture, maybe we can transform petty squabbles and litigation into satire.

    Because really, talent comes naturally, and we all need to encourage each other, not just expect schools to keep everyone inspired

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