Page One

School Board Ends Investigation of Vice Principal

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday March 07, 2008

Margaret Lowry—removed from her position as Willard Middle School vice principal—was placed on special assignment Tuesday with Berkeley Unified School District’s central staff. 

The district has been investigating Lowry for the past two weeks for improper conduct involving two special education students. Parents of the students told the Planet that Lowry gave money to one of them to buy marijuana from the other, in what some district officials said might have been an attempt to set up a sting.  

“Our investigation concluded that she did not put any child in harm’s way and that the allegations of her running a sting operation are inaccurate,” said Berkeley Board of Education President John Selawsky. 

Selawsky added that district staff had determined that Lowry will be working at the district’s central office at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way for the remainder of the school year. 

“She might be working to set up summer programs,” he said. “I don’t believe she will be working with children. We want to reassure the public and parents that we are taking the allegations against her very seriously.” 

Selawsky said that the district had investigated Lowry for “heavy-handed use of authority and cutting corners on due process. 

“If a complaint was filed then the complainant will be informed of the outcome of the investigation,” Selwasky said. “If anything was determined then that would go into the employee’s personnel file.” 

District superintendent Bill Huyett did not return calls for comment. Huyett’s staff told the Planet that he was out of the district on official business and would not be available before Wednesday. 

Berkeley Adult School Vice Principal Thomas Orput—who was vice principal at Willard before Lowry took over the position in 2006—will be interim vice principal at Willard for the remainder of the school year, Selawsky said.  

Margaret Kirkpatrick, principal of the adult school, called a special meeting Friday to inform staff about the decision. 

“The adult school will be advertising for Orput’s position,” Selawsky said. “It’s possible it could be a transfer from the district but they will probably hire someone new.” 

Orput did not return calls for comment from the Planet. 

The Planet has also reported several other complaints from current and former parents. They alleged that Lowry repeatedly mistreated students, forced students to write false statements by threatening to expel them and pressured students to inform on students to provide her with information.  

The parents told the Planet that although they had filed official complaints with the district almost a year ago, they had not received any response. 

Huyett told the Planet in an earlier interview that the district would try to resolve the complaints. 

“If complaints have been filed then there will be responses,” said Selawsky Tuesday. “We have to go back and investigate if complaints were actually filed. Most of these complaints were filed at the end of summer last year. That’s the end of the school year before summer break. I am not saying this as an excuse but that might be the reason why they were never followed up.” 

He added that it would take up to two weeks to investigate the complaints. 

Both the Berkeley and Oakland Unified school districts have declined to disclose information about Lowry’s employment history or any disciplinary action taken against her, although Terry Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware and a public records expert, said this information should be open to the public.  

The Planet filed a public records act request with both Berkeley and Oakland school districts on Feb. 20 to obtain records about Lowry. The 10-day response time allowed by law expired without any answer from Oakland Unified. 

John R. Yeh, of Miller Brown Dannis, attorneys for the Berkeley Unified School District, rejected the Planet’s request to see Lowry’s resume and to be informed of any disciplinary action taken against her as "vague and ambiguous, overly broad and unduly burdensome."  

“Our lawyers have informed us that we do not have to give out that information under law,” Selawsky said. 

Yeh’s letter says that the district objects to disclosing information on the basis of legal opinions in two cases, BRV Inc. v. Superior Court, et al and Bakersfield School District v. Superior Court. But Francke told the Planet that opinions in the two cases cited are contrary to Yeh’s interpretation--that they actually hold that complaints and disciplinary information about school district employees are public information.