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Rickert to defend against allegations of misconduct

Eagle Point School District Superintendent Cynda Rickert will defend herself against allegations of misconduct at a November public hearing in Medford before the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission.

Former school board members Jim Mannenbach and Mark Bateman filed a complaint of misconduct in 2011, alleging that Rickert replaced licensed counselors at Eagle Point High School with unlicensed staff.

"They are saying I replaced licensed counselors with an unlicensed person," Rickert said. "That's not even accurate."

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 said staffing changes made at Eagle Point are in compliance with state regulations.

"I am still not aware of what law, policy or rule I allegedly violated," Rickert said.

Rickert received a notice of an allegation of "gross neglect of duty" in the mail on Dec. 24, 2012, from the TSPC. She filed an appeal and requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, which will take place Nov. 12-14.

An administrative law judge will review the TSPC investigation and listen to Rickert's defense and then report his decision back to the TSPC.

Rickert said the hearing, normally held in Salem, will take place in Medford "because there are so many witnesses on both sides," she 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 has consistently declined to comment on the charges.

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 t he 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.

Rickert said the district has had no opportunity to discuss the charges with the TSPC.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or sspecht@mailtribune.com.