Roger Marolt: Roger This | AspenTimes.com

Roger Marolt: Roger This

Roger Marolt
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

Is it easy to tell yourself that speculation is a foolhardy game and to simply refrain from doing it? The answer is “yes” if looking at the facts and determining the truth from them is an option. Then speculation is a pastime for the stupid and lazy. The answer, on the other hand, is “no, it’s impossible not to” if the facts of an issue are buried deeper than drought-talk at an Aspen Business Luncheon in early December. Then speculation becomes a challenge to the intellectually curious.

Not for the concerned parent or even a dull-witted columnist are there nearly enough facts available to come to any satisfactory explanation for Art Abelmann’s recent middle-of-the-night departure from this town and his position as principal of Aspen High School. So we are left to speculate or talk about the weather. Let’s speculate.

What many people forget is that there were bomb threats at AHS on successive days at the beginning of the week of Abelmann’s exodus. As he should have, Abelmann took these threats extremely seriously, so seriously that he spent the better part of two nights with Aspen’s finest searching the Aspen campus for explosives and worrying: Should the schools open the next day? Is the disaster-preparedness plan ready? What do I tell the kids and parents?

As it turned out the threats were, thankfully, hoaxes. And, enough circumstantial evidence was found to trace them to a student. That student and the parents, who incidentally maintain a prominent position in the community, were called in for questioning. The student sneered and denied having anything to do with it, but Abelmann was more convinced than ever that they found the culprit and wanted action to be taken. He demanded this in no uncertain terms.

The parents became outraged. If these unprovable accusations against their child saw the light of day, reputations would be ruined and the kid would never get into a respectable college. They threatened a lawsuit against the already financially strapped school district if the matter wasn’t dropped immediately.

Abelmann didn’t care about the litigation threat. A bomb threat was more perilous. He wanted justice and to show kids they couldn’t get away with this. He was angry and refused to give in. He looked to the school superintendent, John Maloy, for support. It put Maloy in a bad spot. Of course Maloy knew that bomb threats are extremely serious. On the other hand, the daily pressure of managing the school district on a dwindling budget is an incessant source of strain. The potential negative impacts of a huge lawsuit couldn’t be ignored.

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Law enforcement officers on the scene decided that there wasn’t enough hard evidence to take any action against the child (although they also determined no further investigation into the bomb threats was necessary). This cinched the decision for Maloy; no disciplinary action could be taken by the school, either. There is no way it would stand up in court. The school district likely would lose any resulting lawsuit by the parents.

Abelmann was worn down and fed up. He quit on the spot. This presented a problem for the school district, though: There was a reasonable possibility that he would vent publicly, especially if hounded by the press after leaving so abruptly. The school district would have to answer questions, possibly bringing the lawsuit back into play.

The solution was hush money. Abelmann agreed to resign with a severance package wrapped in a nondisclosure agreement and left town immediately, and we might never hear from him again.

Now remember, this is purely speculation. It’s fiction. I made it up. It’s an out-and-out lie. But I did it to demonstrate that the fewer facts you have to work around, the easier it is to fabricate all kinds of stories to fit them. Right now lots of good stories are floating around town, and we need some facts to get in their way. I have heard at least half a dozen of the tales, and do you know what? None can be shot down. That’s the danger. Without facts, just about anything is plausible. Worse, the resulting confusion and uncertainty can quietly divide and undermine the community’s base.

While entertaining gossip begets more entertaining gossip, we cannot for long risk having the community wonder about what is happening at the place where we send our children every day with the greatest confidence that they can learn in a safe environment that is completely transparent to our scrutiny. Adult conflict within it, even that of a very personal nature, cannot relegate the maintenance of our faith in our school system to a subservient concern.

In the absence of facts, we cannot simply convince ourselves to stop speculating on what is happening at Aspen High School. We have way too much at stake there to let it go at that. Somebody who knows something needs to step up and fill us in. I heard it might be Coach Sirko.