Queengate Cover-Up

Ballot burning robs a student of her title but brings down a principal

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UNMARRIED AND FIVE MONTHS PREGNANT, SPORTING a punk look of dyed red hair, metal bracelets and black fingernails, April Schuldt did not fit the conventional image of a high school homecoming queen. Nonetheless, she won the ) student election at Memorial High School in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and thus seemed to have every right to the title. But school officials didn't see it that way; they denied the 17-year-old her crown and named the runner-up, pert and clean-cut Elizabeth Weld, as winner. Last week Eau Claire District superintendent Lee Hansen exposed a plot by principal Charles Zielin and three assistant principals to burn the original ballots and cover up their scam. Hansen announced disciplinary actions against the four administrators and a teacher who came forward. "In trying to protect the traditional image of Memorial High School," said Hansen, "these individuals trampled over . . . the democratic process."

Schuldt approached school authorities after a student tipped her off that she had won. Hansen's subsequent investigation ultimately determined that she had received 100 votes, against fewer than 70 cast for runner-up Weld. As a result, principal Zielin resigned. One assistant principal was placed on unpaid leave, and two others received letters of reprimand. A teacher who counted the ballots was suspended without pay for 10 days and removed as a department chair and adviser. With homecoming come and gone, Schuldt never got to wear her crown. But she has been invited to appear on eight television programs and is talking to the Donahue show.