By DAMIAN MANN
The Prospect Charter School principal and a teacher have resigned amid turmoil over bullying and ongoing investigations by the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission.
Principal Jennifer Pettit, who is the focus of parent complaints, offered her resignation last week, citing a desire to work in a larger town, said Superintendent Don Alexander. Her resignation takes effect in June 2014.
A middle-school teacher, Jennifer Garner, also resigned this week, but Alexander said he didn’t know the reasons why. Her resignation takes effect this June.
Alexander said he didn’t believe the complaints lodged against Pettit by parents — and by Alexander himself — had anything to do with her stepping down.
“A lot of it I can’t comment on,” Alexander said.
School officials, parents and teachers have been distressed over cyberbullying among students, in which vicious texts are sent via social media, Alexander said. Most have been about boyfriend problems, he said.
Parents say some of the bullying came from Pettit herself, whose leadership style has been called “abrasive,” particularly toward female students.
The resignations of Pettit and Garner follow on the heels of a teacher resigning and another taking early retirement in January.
Alexander said he couldn’t comment on a report he filed with the TSPC listing his complaints against Pettit.
Alexander himself is the subject of an ongoing investigation into complaints filed with the TSPC on Feb. 12, 2012.
Attempts to reach Pettit for comment Friday were unsuccessful.
TSPC spokeswoman Melody Hanson said the superintendent’s complaint against Pettit claims she violated state standards as an educator. Hanson said she couldn’t reveal the nature of the complaints.
Hanson said complaints filed by Prospect parents have a similar theme over a particular allegation, but she said that information would remain confidential until the investigation is complete.
Pettit’s teaching license remains valid until Sept. 11, 2014, Hanson said.
If the commission finds a complaint is justified, an educator could receive a range of disciplinary actions, such as a public reprimand, license suspension or revocation of a license for up to one year, Hanson said.
No complaints have been filed against Garner, Hanson said.
Parents contacted Friday said Pettit’s leadership style is at the heart of problems at the 234-student school and one of the reasons for a high teacher turnover rate.
Sandi Thompson, a mother of five daughters, said she thinks Alexander is downplaying the magnitude of the turmoil at the school.
“It is catastrophic what has happened to the students and the teachers,” she said.
Thompson, who is one of the parents who filed complaints with the TSPC, said the complaint against Alexander from 26 parents stems from his failure to respond and protect the students in situations that happened prior to February 2012.
Thompson said that Pettit targeted female students with verbally abusive behavior, while showing favoritism to male students, even loaning her personal vehicle to a male student to pick up something for her.
In one case, Thompson’s eldest daughter, a valedictorian, was challenged by Pettit for inappropriate dress, Thompson said.
“She dressed like a successful businesswoman, and that’s who she is,” Thompson said.
Pettit ordered Thompson’s daughter to put on a T-shirt from lost and found, Thompson said. Instead, her daughter, who is now 18, went home to change her clothes. When she returned to school, Pettit suspended her for leaving campus, Thompson said.
Terry Cryts, a former Prospect Parent Teacher Organization president, said that last year her daughter was a senior at Prospect, the student body president and the salutatorian.
“She was bullied out of the school,” Cryts said. “She had to go to Eagle Point the last four months of the year.”
Pettit kicked Cryts’ daughter off the basketball team over a disagreement, Cryts said.
“She was trying to break her,” Cryts said. “I’ve never dealt with an adult who bullied girls.”
Cryts said Pettit bullied in a manner that was coercive but not necessarily defamatory in nature.
“She was very abrasive, very unfriendly,” Cryts said. “But she would always say later that she was being misconstrued.”
Another parent, Tawnie Smith, said she transferred her 14-year-old daughter to Eagle Point because some Prospect teachers were discriminating against her because of her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“They were telling her that she was a loser,” Smith said. “Honestly, I think the school should be shut down.”
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.