Eagle Point School District Superintendent Cynda Rickert has appealed her misconduct charge with the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission and will defend herself in a public hearing.
Rickert was charged with misconduct in November for allegedly replacing licensed counselors at Eagle Point High School with unlicensed staff, a claim the district's administration said is "simply not true."
Oregon Administrative Rules state that districts must assign guidance counseling responsibilities to the appropriate personnel and "provide a comprehensive guidance and counseling program" at every grade level. Knowingly assigning an educator to duties they aren't licensed for is not allowed.
Rickert received a notice of her charge of "gross neglect of duty" in the mail on Dec. 24 from the TSPC She chose to appeal the decision and request a hearing, which will take place in the coming months, according to TSPC spokeswoman Melody Hansen.
An administrative law judge will review the TSPC investigation and listen to Rickert's defense and then report his decision back to the TSPC.
"The TSPC will have the ultimate say," said Hansen.
The charge against Rickert stemmed from a 2011 complaint from current Eagle Point School Board members Jim Mannenbach and Mark Bateman, district administrators said.
Mannenbach first lodged a complaint with the district in spring 2010 over the reduced counseling services, which the district determined weren't in violation of state standards.
Then in October 2010, Mannenbach appealed the decision to the Oregon Department of Education, which conducted its own investigation. It determined the district was in compliance of all Division 22 Standards for Public Elementary and Secondary Schools.
Mannenbach and Bateman then lodged the TSPC complaint in January 2011, a month after the ODE said the district was in compliance, according to Allen Barber, the district's human resources director.
Mannenbach did not return calls Wednesday and declined to comment on the charges in December.
According to the TSPC allegations, Rickert reorganized the counseling staff in Eagle Point during the 2009-10 school year and replaced qualified, licensed counseling staff with unlicensed classified staff, allowing them to perform counseling duties without proper licenses.
The district eliminated five counselor positions from the elementary and middle schools during budget cuts in 2009-10, transferring some advising and mentor duties to other staff, according to Barber, who was principal of the high school at the time.
Barber said counselor duties that legally must be performed by licensed staff were taken on by the district's two remaining full-time counselors stationed at Eagle Point High School.
There is no requirement in Oregon to have licensed counselors at elementary and middle schools, Barber said, and the TSPC's investigation focused only on the high school, which has consistently employed two licensed counselors for more than 20 years.
"We don't know what they think has gone wrong," said Barber, who said the district has had no opportunity to discuss the charges with the TSPC.
When Rickert was first notified in October that the TSPC was considering charges against her, the commission said the charges were related to counseling services and whether Rickert was avoiding buying school buses to deplete a bus reimbursement fund. No mention of the bus issue was included as part of TSPC misconduct charge.
According to the TSPC, Rickert has had two additional complaints filed against her with the commission, the first in October and another this month by district patrons.
Hansen said she would not elaborate on the complaints until after the commission takes a final action on them.
Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.