Education News

ACSD reacts to details of principal’s departure

MIDDLEBURY — Keeping with their policy of providing few details on personnel matters, officials at the Addison Central School District this week had little to say about a recent story in the independent weekly Seven Days.

The April 26 story by reporter Alison Novak unraveled the mystery behind the sudden resignation of Middlebury Union High School Principal Justin Campbell on Jan. 23. It told a story of how Campbell fabricated evidence of an underage drinking party that led to the firing of the two MUHS coaches who allegedly hosted it — Jill and Pat Dunn.

The Dunns said they were blindsided by news at the end of November 2021 that a Campbell investigation into the rumored party would mean the loss of their jobs — Jill as girls’ tennis coach and Pat as assistant boys’ basketball coach. When, 10 months later, they saw the evidence was interviews with three MUHS students who said they were at the party, they said that didn’t seem right to them. So last fall they hired their own investigator, who found that the students hadn’t been interviewed by Campbell.

Campbell’s resignation, effective immediately in January, came just hours after the Dunns were informed by an ACSD lawyer that an investigation substantiated their claims that Campbell made up the interviews.

After two and a half years on the job and generally well-liked, Campbell’s departure was a surprise to many. In a two-paragraph note to the community he said simply, “I’m ready for a different challenge that helps me to better balance all aspects of my life.”

Campbell has not yet responded to a phone message from the Addison Independent requesting a conversation.

At the time of the resignation, when the information about fabricated student interviews was not widely known, ACSD Superintendent Peter Burrows said in a statement that the district was “incredibly grateful to Justin for the time he spent with us and the care and sense of community he created among the MUHS staff, students, and families.”

We think it would be helpful for local residents to read the official statement that the ACSD provided to Seven Days on April 12 and to the Addison Independent. on April 29. Here it is:

“Jill Dunn raised concerns about gender based discrimination and unprofessional conduct directed against her in her role as a seasonal coach. It was also reported to the Administration that Ms. Dunn and her husband hosted a party where there was underage consumption of alcohol. The Superintendent directed both matters to be investigated in the fall of 2021. The investigator found the concerns about discrimination and unprofessional conduct to be unsubstantiated. The allegations about the party were substantiated. Ms. Dunn filed a complaint with the EEOC [U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] in 2022. It was initially dismissed. 

“On Dec 3, 2022, Ms. Dunn brought forth claims about an improper investigation. The Superintendent confirmed with the investigator that the investigation had occurred and confirmed with Ms. Dunn on Dec. 5th, 2022, that the matter was concluded.

“In early January 2023, Ms. Dunn shared with the School Board a report from a private investigator hired by her. Interviewees indicated that they were not interviewed. The School Board and the Superintendent were alarmed by the findings of the private investigator. The Board directed that the allegations of falsified investigations be investigated and that appropriate disciplinary action be taken if Ms. Dunn’s allegations were accurate. The EEOC was notified of this investigation and a report was made to the Agency of Education. The District found the Dunn allegations of falsified interviews to be substantiated by the evidence. The District immediately notified the EEOC of the results of the investigation. 

“Once it was determined that the investigation into the Dunn student party was improper, the Board directed that both investigations, the one into allegations raised by Ms. Dunn regarding discrimination and unprofessional conduct and the one having to do with the party, be re-opened and that the matters should be investigated again. A reinvestigation began in late-January 2023. Ms. Dunn and her husband were invited and refused to cooperate with either investigation, declining to answer questions. The investigator completed the renewed investigations with the information available. It was found that the concerns about discrimination and unprofessional conduct were unsubstantiated. It was found that the allegations about the party were substantiated. The results were reported to the Board. 

“The District cannot disclose what personnel actions, if any, were taken because of the improper investigation. Personnel matters are confidential. The Board, the Superintendent and the District are committed to honesty and integrity, enforcement of the District’s policies and transparency, where possible. We are confident that we have fulfilled that commitment in connection with the Dunn matters.”

That’s the end of the statement.

Burrows, who months ago announced he is leaving the ACSD at the end of this school year, was out of the country last week on a school trip. He was out of the office the first two days of this week on a visit to Milton, Mass., where he will start a new job as the leader of a school district there this summer.

Burrows and the district answered a few questions from the Independent.

In an emailed response, he said that although the ACSD determined that Campbell had fabricated the student interviews, the district’s investigator — an unidentified administrator — concluded that the preponderance of the evidence still found that the Dunns had hosted an underage drinking party.

“We cannot disclose the evidence,” he wrote.

Burrows said the EEOC reopened their case when they learned that the student interviews had been faked, but it has not taken any action. It is unclear at the moment if the commission is still considering the case.

The ACSD forwarded its report to the Vermont Agency of Education, which has the power to revoke Campbell’s educator’s license.

“It is a confidential process. We do not know the status,” Burrows wrote.

Although this case has clearly sucked up a measure of staff time, it appears that the ACSD has not invested extra money in it. 

“Since the investigations were conducted by our employees, there were no extra expenditures for the work,” Burrows wrote.

The ACSD has not paid any money to the Dunns, Burrows added.

“We did not make decisions based on fear of litigation,” Burrows wrote. “The District sought to pursue the truth. When it appeared that the initial investigation was flawed, we re-opened the earlier investigations to make sure the results were appropriate.”

To make sure the record is clear, community members have told this reporter that they heard that the ACSD attorney involved in this case, Pietro Lynn, was the brother of Addison Independent editor and publisher Angelo Lynn. The two men are not related.

This does not end the Addison Independent’s reporting on this case. There are still questions unanswered, particularly about the other claims the Dunns have against the ACSD. Look for more information in a future edition.

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