By VERNON ROBISON
Moapa Valley Progress
A significant and unexpected change took place at Ute Perkins Elementary school last week. On Thursday afternoon, parents received a brief letter from school principal Holly Lee stating that she would be stepping down from her position as top administrator at the school.
“My tenure at Ute V. Perkins has been incredibly rewarding for me as I have had the opportunity to work with an incredible staff and get to know many wonderful people and students in the community,” Lee stated in the letter.
Lee had served as principal at Perkins for the past 18 months. The letter cited some of the school’s accomplishments during that time including increases in academic achievement and the school’s recognition as a Shining Star School by the Nevada Department of Education.
“I am extremely proud of the staff and students with the progress thay have made,” the letter stated.
The letter also informed parents that Hal Mortensen would be serving as acting principal for a time at Perkins. Mortensen is currently serving as principal at Moapa Valley High School. He will be splitting his time between the two schools while the search for a new principal takes place, the letter stated.
The letter did not address the reason why Lee was stepping down from the post at scarcely more than a quarter into the school year. But she was reportedly under pressure at the school due to several compliance issues that had occurred, according to a group of local parents who had spent the past several months trying to address those issues.
The problems were purportedly surrounding the handling of a number of instances of alleged bullying at the school, according to the group of parents; all of whom spoke on condition of remaining anonymous. The parents alleged that a student at the school had engaged in a number of bullying incidents against their children over the past several months.
State law requires certain actions from administrators and teachers when bullying is brought to their attention. Strict procedures must be followed in reporting such incidents to parents and in investigating the details of each incident. Time frames are mandated in the law for the filing of required reports and notifying parents.
The parents said that they had not receive notice of the incidents in a timely manner and had only learned about the incidents from other sources. Furthermore formal reporting that was done was often inaccurate, incomplete and in some cases backdated to cover the fact that they were out of compliance in timing, parents said.
“The principal was just not truthful about a lot of things,” said one of the anonymous parents. “There were reports not filed. Evidence that had been available was not produced and in some cases the evidence was actually destroyed.”
Parents claimed they had learned that, weeks after the incident had occurred, the parent of the perpetrator had not even been notified of the problem. “I was pretty upset about that,” one parent said. “After all, that is (the principal’s) job. She is required by law to do certain things to keep our kids safe.”
The parents of the alleged victims pursued the matter, first with Metro and CCSD Police, and then with central CCSD administrators. In the process of those meetings parents said that the truth came out. State law had not been followed in reporting and handling of the incidents.
The most recent meeting reportedly occurred on Wednesday last week when parents met with CCSD Assistant Superintendent Tammy Malich who oversees the district’s compliance in regards to bullying laws. Also in attendance at the meeting were associate superintendents Jeff Hybarger and Grant Hanevold. Hybarger had been the supervisor of all of the local school administrators. But the previous week, a CCSD reorganization of zones had reassigned Hybarger to a different zone and placed Hanevold in the supervisory role of local schools.
In Wednesday’s meeting with parents, Malich reportedly reviewed the materials that parents had gathered over recent months documenting the long history of the bullying incidents and their mishandling.
“She confirmed with us that there were some real problems with how things had been handled,” one parent in attendance said. “She was very invested in the process and I felt confident that she knew what the law required.”
The following day, the letter of Lee’s decision to step down was sent home to all of the parents at Perkins. Lee was unavailable for comment for this article.
Parents in the anonymous group said that they were generally satisfied with the outcome and how the issue was finally handled by central CCSD officials.
“After Wednesday’s meeting, I spoke with Mr. Hybarger and thanked him for stepping up and doing what needed to be done,” said one anonymous parent. “He did what he was supposed to do and I’m pleased with the outcome.”
Parents were concerned that their actions might have been considered a vendetta against Lee to somehow remove her from the school. This was not the case, they said.
“This was not about her or her job,” said one parent. “We weren’t meaning to victimize her or get rid of her. It was about the safety of kids at the school. That has to come first.”
In an interview with the Progress, Hanevold reiterated that he was new to the position and had been unaware of all the details of the case. Therefore, his involvement in the process over recent weeks had been quite limited, he said.
Hanevold lives in Logandale and served as principal of Moapa Valley High School from 2006-2013.
He declined to make comments on specifics of the issue stating that it would be inappropriate for him to discuss personnel issues, especially in light of his limited involvement in the matter.
But Hanevold said that, at this point, he was more interested in looking forward than in looking back.
“I am anticipating working in coordination with the community to identify and select the best possible candidate for the Perkins position,” Hanevold said. “Someone who will promote new ideas and new vision to continue the Shining Star status of Ute Perkins Elementary School.”
In an interview on Monday, Hybarger said that he was confident that Hanevold would be able to continue the process of selecting a new principal that would suit the Perkins community.
“He is very vested, as I have been, to do the right thing for the children in the community,” Hybarger said. “I am confident that he will be able to work with the community in finding the best fit for Perkins.”
MVHS principal Hal Mortensen, who served as Perkins principal before Lee was appointed, said last week that he was also interested in looking forward during the upcoming interim period as acting principal.
“I enjoyed being the principal at Ute Perkins Elementary,” he said. “I look forward to my association with the great kids, staff and parents. I will continue my capacity as the principal at MVHS and, in the interim, I will provide the same for Ute Perkins.”
Perkins PTO President Bren McClean, who spoke only as a parent and not on behalf of the PTO, anticipated the chance to move forward as a school community.
“I look forward to working with new leadership in making sure that our children’s education and safety are top priorities,” she said.