Central Point district defends Scott hiring

CENTRAL POINT — District officials defend the hiring of a new Mae Richardson Elementary School principal but express regrets they didn't do more to allay parents concerns over hiring a woman named as a defendant in a sexual abuse civil suit.

Central Point School District incoming Superintendent Samantha Steele defended Lynn Scott as a well-respected educator who was hired after undergoing a rigorous selection procedure. Scott was one of seven finalists who impressed a nine-member selection panel during a two-day interview process where Scott's pending litigation was thoroughly discussed, Steele said.

"Six of the nine had Lynn as a clear first choice," Scott said. "We weighed Lynn's skills, experience and qualities. She is a well-known educator with, except for this civil allegation, an unblemished record."

Scott is the principal of Hillside Elementary School, formerly known as Little Butte Elementary, in the Eagle Point School District.

She is named in a federal civil suit alleging that Joel Heller, former Little Butte teacher and counselor, molested two young girls in his classroom in fall 2011 and that school administrators knew Heller had a pattern of abusive behavior and failed to protect the students.

Scott has denied all allegations of wrongdoing. Steele said the selection committee thoroughly investigated the allegations and that they are confident Scott "did nothing wrong," Steele said.

Central Point parent Brant Harnois and grandparent Mark Vranes said they remain concerned that the district was not transparent regarding Scott's hiring. The two men, along with about 60 other parents, teachers and staff members, attended a meeting Aril 18 to hear the district's explanation regarding Scott's hiring.

Harnois has three children attending Mae Richardson. Harnois said Steele and other officials were "fairly successful in presenting Lynn Scott as a qualified principal."

But Harnois remains concerned that he and other parents were not made aware of Scott's involvement in the lawsuit before she was hired. Harnois remains concerned the district as hired a principal with a lawsuit against her that alleges she did not prevent abuse of students, and an open investigation with the Teachers Standards and Practices Commission, he said.

"It feels like they had no real plan to alert or inform the parents," Harnois said.

Medford attorney Tom Petersen filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Medford in December 2012 on behalf of two unidentified girls who allege that Heller repeatedly restrained and molested them during class and recess time in 2011. In a March 27 news story, Petersen said he had affidavits from incidents involving two additional students that allegedly occurred between 2005 and 2007.

Steele said Petersen also filed the complaint with the commission against Scott on behalf of his clients. But the report has rendered no decision against Scott, she said. And allegations against Joel Heller should not be confused with Scott's actions in the case, Steele said.

"We are confident she is the right person for Mae Richardson, and that the allegations (against Scott) are unfounded," Steele said.

Both Scott and Steele said they understand and support parents' concerns about the welfare of their children, particularly when there are allegations of abuse.

"What I really believe is people are going to advocate for their kids," Scott said. "And I am OK with people having issues, and that they want to talk."

Steele pointed out that Eagle Point police and the Jackson County District Attorney's Office declined to file criminal charges against Heller or anyone else related to the case. She said it was Scott who brought the matter of the lawsuit before the board during her interview process.

Scott in February narrowly lost out in being selected as Central Point's director of education, Steele said.

"She impressed everyone," Steele said.

Scott has been with the Eagle Point District for 10 years. Scott cited Central Point as her hometown, and said she wanted to become principal at Mae Richardson, in part because it was where she attended grade school.

"I saw it as an exciting opportunity," Scott said, adding she has no plans to leave the position.

Vranes has six grandchildren who attend the Central Point schools. Thursday's meeting was frustrating to parents because the district chose to have questions submitted in written form, rather than have an "open dialog," Vranes said.

"It was a very awkward meeting," Vranes said. "I think the school board and the superintendent handled the roll out (of Scott's hiring) so poorly. They're the one who are getting a failing grade."

Steele said she apologized repeatedly for failing to address Scott's involvement in the lawsuit during an earlier introductory meeting between Scott, teachers and a few parents. Scott said the matter of the pending litigation has been in the news extensively. Steele mistakenly thought the reasons parents were not asking about the matter was because they had no concerns, she said.

"We didn't address it, and we should have. If I could do the whole thing over, I would have addressed it myself," Steele said, adding the written format for questions at last Thursday's meeting was designed to "prevent anyone from filibustering" on the topic.

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