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Complaints lead to investigation of Prospect Charter School principal

Parents of Prospect Charter School students have lodged a series of complaints about the school's principal, leading to an investigation by the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission.

Prospect Parent Teacher Organization President Terry Cryts claims that Principal Jennifer Pettit is unfair and discriminatory and doesn't comply with set discipline guidelines.

"She is rude and abrasive," said Cryts, who transferred her daughter to Eagle Point High School.

Cryts said she is not alone, and at least a dozen families from the 200-student school have filed separate complaints with the Oregon TSPC.

The TSPC confirmed five such complaints had been received by Wednesday, though the complaints may still be coming in, according to Melody Hanson, director of professional practices for the commission.

"The cases have been assigned to an investigator and we are doing a preliminary investigation," said Hanson, who couldn't confirm whether all the complaints were from parents, or if some might be from teachers.

The TSPC is capable of suspending or revoking a teaching or administrative license.

One Prospect parent filing a complaint, Sandi Thompson, alleges that her daughter was wrongfully accused of bullying, denied access to copies of her school transcript and targeted because she was a female.

At a school board meeting Monday, a science teacher resigned from his position, a decision Cryts said related to Pettit.

Prospect School Superintendent Don Alexander said the teacher's resignation was related to a family issue out of state, and another January resignation was from a teacher who took early retirement because of a health problem, not because of Pettit.

Alexander said he attended a community meeting in December where he heard parent complaints, which centered around the school's discipline procedures.

"We are not perfect, and we make mistakes," said Alexander. "But board policies were followed correctly."

Alexander said he couldn't comment on specific student discipline issues. He said a complaint that students serving lunchtime detentions were receiving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead of full lunches has since been answered and the situation rectified.

Despite Alexander's awareness of the complaints, Cryts and Thompson said parents don't believe action is being taken to correct Pettit's behavior.

"There's a core group of us who have stepped forward," said Thompson, a parent of a Prospect senior. Thompson alleged Pettit favors boys over girls and fails to document discipline issues, which can lead to he-said, she-said conflicts between Pettit and students.

Pettit did not return phone calls Wednesday for this story.

Alexander said he was aware that parents might be filing complaints with the Oregon TSPC and said the district has nothing to hide.

"I would welcome the TSPC or the ODE (Oregon Department of Education) to come down here anytime," said Alexander.

Cryts and Thompson said when they take their complaints to Alexander, they usually stop there. The two mothers said they believe the Prospect School Board isn't stepping in when it should.

"They could launch an investigation on their own, but they haven't done that," said Thompson, who thinks the board is favoring a status quo approach, hoping the issues resolve on their own. "They can't sit there and say they didn't know."

Cryts said that school board meetings are structured in a way that gives the superintendent and Pettit the most room for communication with the board.

"They only give the board part of the information," said Cryts.

Alexander said he understands that parents have concerns, but asserts that policies are being followed.

"I think a lot of parents are upset," said Alexander. "But we need to be able to keep the focus on what's important, and that's student learning."

The TSPC will conduct an investigation and decide whether Pettit committed any violations at a meeting, either in late April or July, Hanson said.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.