Minneapolis Public Schools reaffirmed a decision to retain the Barton Open School principal in his current position on Monday, despite the calls of some parents for his removal after a popular teacher was put on leave in March.
Last month, veteran teacher Flory Sommers described the administrative leave she served last year as “retaliation” by first-year Principal Jonas Beugen. But in a letter to families posted on the school’s website late Monday, Chief of School Michael Thomas indicated district administrators share responsibility for an episode that has divided the school community.
“I believe the current discord that exists at Barton is the result of many factors that will need to be mediated and healed, but most specifically a systemic issue of central office administrative procedures and practices that created significant disruption to the learning community,” Thomas wrote in the letter. “This is not something I take lightly and I will ensure the accountability for such conditions will be addressed in a manner to not allow this to occur in the future for any school.”
Sommers, a union steward, said she was placed on leave after she challenged the principal’s decision to excess a colleague, one of just a few people of color in a teaching position at Barton. Her attorney, Gregg Corwin, said Sommers was improperly pressured to share details from private conversations with coworkers, adding that the district violated her free speech rights by telling her she could have no contact with other teachers, students or their parents during her leave.
Sommers filed a union grievance and in May submitted a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Corwin said the complaint was passed on to the Office of Civil Rights.
Both Beugen and a district spokesperson said they could not provide a full response to Sommers’ claims without her permission to share personnel data considered private under state law. Asked to grant that permission for a recent news story, Sommers and her attorney declined.
Sommers went public with her story at the July 12 Board of Education meeting. During the meeting’s public comment period, several students and parents questioned Beugen’s ability to lead the school.
Another group of Barton parents then launched an online petition calling for the dispute to be resolved in mediation.
Thomas’ letter commits the district to maintaining open lines of communication with Barton families.
“Together we will create an ongoing dialogue to ensure you feel fully informed and your voice is heard,” he wrote. “This will start with regular updates, meetings, and listening sessions.”
Beugen became Barton’s third principal in three years when he was assigned to the school last year.
This is the second time this summer Thomas has written a letter to explain a controversial personnel decision. In June, he apologized in writing to the Washburn High School community for the decision to fire theater teacher Crystal Spring.
In May, Spring was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of obstructing the legal process as Minneapolis police were making an arrest. Police claimed Spring was interfering; she countered that she was only monitoring their actions.
Spring was recommended for discharge in June for “conduct unbecoming a teacher.” Thomas reversed that decision and pledged to review the district’s termination procedures.