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Document Sheds Light on Arcata Principal's Reassignment 

Written reprimand accuses Perry of failing to follow the law, district policy

click to enlarge Arcata High School Principal Ron Perry.

Northern Humboldt Union High School District

Arcata High School Principal Ron Perry.

Some eight months before the Northern Humboldt Unified School District Board of Trustees voted to relieve Principal Ron Perry of his duties at the end of the school year and reassign him to the classroom, sending shockwaves through the Arcata High School community, the district reprimanded him privately for "not following the law," the Journal has learned.

In response to a request under the California Public Records Act seeking documentation of any claims of misconduct against Perry, the district released a single document, a letter of reprimand Superintendent Roger Macdonald sent Perry on Aug. 1, 2023.

"I am issuing this letter of reprimand because two investigations conducted during the 2022-2023 school year showed that you are not following the law as you exercise your duties as principal of Arcata High School and you have displayed a lack of knowledge of relevant district policies and procedures," Macdonald wrote, later concluding: "As the concerns summarized in this letter are significant and have been repeated please be aware that I will have to consider disciplinary action, including suspension or dismissal, if they continue."

Perry did not immediately respond to a request to comment for this story by deadline.

The board's March 12 closed session vote, with four board members voting in favor and one abstaining, to reassign Perry at the close of the school year seemed to stun the Arcata High School community, with staff, students and parents expressing shock and dismay. An online petition seeking his reinstatement drew more than 1,000 signatures, and a pair of subsequent board meetings' public comment periods were filled with speakers supporting Perry, who has helmed the school for two years. The Arcata High School Site Council, comprised of staff, parents and a student, wrote a letter expressing "grave concerns," referring to Perry's reassignment as a "tear in the fabric of our school community."

Reached by the Journal, Macdonald said he's legally limited in what he can say about what is a personnel matter and also wants to be respectful of Perry's privacy. But the superintendent said he and the board "considered a lot of factors" in making the decision and "it's fair to say some of those issues" addressed in the letter "did come into play."

The three-page letter summarizes the findings of two separate investigations spawned by parent complaints, one dealing with student discipline and the other threats made against a specific teacher. The district obtained an independent third-party investigator through its legal counsel to head both inquiries, according to Macdonald.

In the threats case, the letter states it was determined Perry and his staff failed to appropriately respond to school safety concerns raised by a parent, quoting the investigator as saying Perry "did not take the threat seriously and approved the situation in a very lackadaisical and haphazard manner."

Specifically, the letter alleges Perry failed to supervise a staff member and didn't provide direction on what actions to take if there was a report of a violent threat to the school or a staff member. And when a staff member shared with Perry that a parent had reported concerns their child was threatening to kill a specific teacher, the letter alleges Perry failed to follow up, ensure a threat assessment was completed or contact law enforcement.

"Your failure to respond in any manner exacerbated the situation with the parent," the letter states.

The discipline case focused on a case in which Perry allegedly suspended a student without knowing the conduct they were accused of and without providing the student a pre-suspension conference as required by law, and misrepresented the reason for the discipline to a parent. Perry also allegedly failed to send out a required written notice of the suspension.

"Moreover, it was discovered that you typically do not send out written notice," Macdonald wrote. "Sometimes you direct your assistant to complete the paperwork. This is not a duty that can be delegated — even if staff prepare the notice, you must review and sign it."

The letter goes on to tell Perry he "abdicated responsibility for the disciplinary situation" throughout the process.

"During interviews, you appeared not to know what had happened, made statements indicating that you did not have any control over staff involved and did not know what the process should have been," the letter states. "You stated that you did not know or read school board policies as that was not your job. That is incorrect — you should be aware of and implementing board policies."

Both incidents, Macdonald wrote, demonstrated a lack of understanding of the laws and policies a principal must follow and show poor judgement.

"I note that a districtwide training was provided in August 2022 related to suspension and expulsion," Macdonald continued. "You arrived late, walked in and out of the professional development, and did not appear to be paying attention when present. These mistakes are very expensive for the district, both in cost of investigations and in legal counsel time."

The letter concludes by offering a series of recommendations, including that Perry "attend and learn from" offered professional development, work with his assigned mentor to "understand" his position and "what it entails," review district policies, procedures and the law, learn how to conduct school investigations and "learn how to engage appropriately with parents of all types."

"I would be happy to meet with you to provide further clarification," Macdonald writes, urging Perry to make an appointment if he has any questions about what is expected. "If you do not make an appointment with me, I will assume you fully understand your obligations and are prepared to comply with them."

Speaking to the Journal, Macdonald conceded it has been difficult for him and the board to hear concerns from the school community while unable to share information that could help explain the board's decision. That's especially the case, he said, when some of the people demanding more information know it cannot legally be provided.

"The reason that the March 12 decision was not made public is because you would never make a decision like that public," Macdonald said. "In board meetings across our state there were teachers and administrators who were reassigned or let go, and none of that was made public because it can't be."

Macdonald said he recognizes Perry has deep support in the community.

"He's lived here his whole life and has a lot of friends who support him," he said. "I like Ron. But our responsibility for Arcata High School is bigger than that. I understand it's hard for people. I do."

For his part, Perry has not said much about the district's decision other than through a short statement he released a few days after it was reported. In it, Perry said he will remain committed to the goal of "fostering a culture of respect and kindness and a place where students are inspired to achieve."

"Though I will not return as principal of AHS in the fall, I will be honored to remain part of the Northern Humboldt team," he wrote. "This past week has illustrated to me the strength of our bonds. United, I am certain we can achieve any goal we set for ourselves. I look forward to working with our entire community to inspire students this spring and finish the year strong."

Macdonald said the district has candidates to replace Perry as principal next year and will be conducting interviews in the coming weeks. He urged anyone with concerns about what's happening at Arcata High School or in the district to reach out to him directly and said he'd be happy to schedule a meeting or a phone call.

"Even though I'm not saying very much, and that's out of respect for Ron and our personnel policies, I know how important Arcata High School is to our community," Macdonald said. "And I'm committed to ensuring all the high schools in our district are serving their students and the community."

Macdonald paused for a moment before continuing: "Decisions like this are really hard. And I don't take them lightly and neither does our board."

Thadeus Greenson (he/him) is the news editor at the Journal. Contact him at (707) 442-1400, extension 321, or [email protected].

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Thadeus Greenson

Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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