Evergreen School District remains tight-lipped about why a principal at a public high school has landed on administrative leave for six weeks straight – collecting roughly $3,100 per week in the process.
While some updates have trickled out to the public, district officials have so far declined to get specific, saying they cannot discuss personnel matters.
The school district placed Mountain View High School Principal Matt Johnson on leave March 16. He returned briefly April 21, but soon found himself back on leave after he cast doubt on the mysterious allegations against him.
That day, Johnson wrote in an all-staff email that the “complaints in the investigation were not supported by credible evidence.” The Columbian newspaper first reported the email and Johnson’s leave.
After placing Johnson back on leave, district officials rebuked his claim.
“Unfortunately, that statement is inaccurate as the investigation did identify some concerns that Matt and the leadership team need to address,” wrote Bill Oman, senior director of secondary education, the following day.
“Matt was placed on administrative leave this morning as we investigate the impact of his message,” Oman added.
According to parents of Mountain View students and multiple faculty members, Johnson’s leave is tied at least partially to concerns over other faculty members using racist language and facing few consequences, if any.
Several teachers told OPB they interpreted Johnson’s email as attempting to discredit concerns. Teachers declined to speak on the record and said they feared retaliation if they spoke publicly. OPB has submitted public records request for complaints against Johnson.
A notable allegation — corroborated by faculty, family of students in attendance and others who aren’t authorized to discuss personnel issues — involved a physical education teacher in the spring of 2020.
The teacher, Tim Buswell, reportedly shouted the n-word at a Latino student who refused to dress into gym clothes that day. According to those sources, the student refused the teacher’s orders and used the racial slur in the same sentence. Buswell then reportedly responded by shouting the word repeatedly as several gym class students and a faculty member watched.
One parent, Michael Bolds, who is Black, learned of the incident as he picked up his two children from Mountain View that day. His daughter told the story to her sibling as the family drove home. Bolds said when he heard their conversation, he asked what happened, and then stopped the car.
Bolds said he drove back to Mountain View immediately and walked to the front office. He said he demanded to talk to Johnson. Bolds said he knew Johnson previously when he was one of his son’s little league baseball coaches.
Instead, Bolds said he was directed to talk with an assistant principal.
“The conversation, it wasn’t satisfying to me,” Bolds said. “He was just making it sound like it was going to get dealt with. It was going to get taken care of.”
Jennifer Bolds, Michael Bolds’ wife, said three of her four oldest children have attended or currently attend Mountain View. She said her children experienced racism in their lives, but never witnessed a teacher use racist language.
“I think there should be zero tolerance about this,” she said.
Buswell called them several times that evening to apologize, they said. He called Michael, who told the teacher he preferred to talk in person. Buswell also called the family’s 25-year-old daughter, Shay Scott, who never attended Mountain View but is listed as a guardian on her siblings’ student records.
Scott said the alleged incident wouldn’t have just hurt the student but all students of color at the school.
“As if they don’t already feel out of place, you yell that out?” said Scott, a 2014 graduate of Evergreen High School.
Mountain View is 47.7% white, 29.7% Hispanic or Latino, 8.7% Asian, 3% Black, 1.7% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and 0.5% American Indian or Alaskan Native, according to the latest state data. Students identifying as two or more races make up 8.7%.
The following day, school staff pulled Bolds’ daughter out of class to talk with Buswell, the family said. They said they put her and a friend in a room with Buswell and a counselor.
“I didn’t like that at all,” Michael Bolds said. “You got adults teaming up on her. I wanted to be there and I told them that.”
The family of the student whom Buswell allegedly directed the slurs at declined to comment for this article. Repeated attempts to contact Buswell were unsuccessful.
The Bolds said they did eventually sit down with Johnson, the principal. Jennifer Bolds said the conversation did not result in any resolutions.
“They couldn’t tell us what was in the works, what his punishment was, but they could tell us he was going to take training. But for privacy reasons he couldn’t tell us anything” Jennifer Bolds said. “It’s hard. You know, you’re mad and you don’t feel like that’s right. We probably should have pushed more.”
It’s unclear if Buswell ever faced consequences. Gail Spolar, Evergreen’s director of communications, declined to answer most questions OPB asked about the incident, including whether the district ever investigated.
“The district takes all complaints very seriously and investigates them in a thorough, timely manner and takes any necessary action based on the investigation findings,” Spolar said.
Spolar instead directed OPB to file a public records request, which often take weeks – sometimes months – to be made available.
After meeting with Johnson, the Bolds family said they never heard about the incident from the district again. Jennifer said she felt like the family was given “lip service.”
“I expected like a follow-up or something,” she said.
Shortly after the Bolds’ meetings, the emerging COVID-19 pandemic effectively shut down the school.
Buswell remained employed with Evergreen Public Schools well after the incident. First hired in 1986, he submitted his retirement notice on March 2, 2021, roughly a year after the alleged incident. The school board approved the retirement March 23.
Buswell grosses about $8,442 per month, Spolar said.