Sequim School District details complaints against administrators

Gender discrimination and/or sexual harassment complaints led to the Sequim School District placing two top administrators on administrative leave in October, the district announced in a letter to parents and staff.

The district provided some details in the letter about the complaints filed in October against the former superintendent, Robert Clark, and Sequim High School Principal Shawn Langston.

Sequim School District officials announced Clark was on paid leave Thursday afternoon, Oct. 22; Langston was placed on leave the following day.

Separate investigations led to Clark’s resignation — one that was approved by the school board on Jan. 15, about 14 months after he had been hired — and to Langston’s working with a mentor as he resumed his position at the high school in late December.

Last Tuesday’s email, “Open Letter to the Community of Sequim,” was sent by Victoria Balint, director of Human Resources, and echoed in a video message on the district’s youtube channel by interim Superintendent Jane Pryne (youtube.com/watch?v=NgIOzuhl8K4).

The district said it retained services of a separate independent investigator to review the allegations made by two complainants alleging that Clark engaged in possible gender discrimination and sexual harassment.

“As Dr. Clark has elected to resign, privacy concerns limit our ability to share complete information regarding the investigation,” Balint wrote.

“However we can share that the board determined Dr. Clark exhibited poor decision-making and poor judgment in the way he approached some personnel matters, but these actions did not rise to the level of an unlawful work environment or gender discrimination,” she continued.

“Ultimately, Dr. Clark utilized a management style the Board does not agree with and elected to resign in the best interests of the District, its staff and its students,” she said.

In a phone interview last Thursday, Clark said there were some things regarding the investigation he would not be able to talk about per a resignation agreement with the district signed in mid-January.

“I believe I said this at board meetings before, but I feel all superintendent jobs are interim, whether they have the interim title or not,” Clark said. “The board had a job to do. (There’s) no animosity on my part; I wish everyone the best.”

He did say the Sequim superintendent position was likely going to be his last full-time job — the COVID-19 outbreak had changed the work to the point he wasn’t interested in working full-time — and that he may seek some part-time position in education at some point.

Clark said he was happy to see voters approve both school district levies this week.

“I still had some ownership in that,” he said.

Clark and his wife Linda have grandchildren in the Puget Sound area and in the Tri-Cities, and said the couple may split time between the regions.

Principal complaint

The school district also retained the services of an independent investigator to review complaints a staff member brought against Langston — hired in 2002 to be SHS’s lead administrator — alleging that he committed sexual harassment by sharing a reference to a school assignment from his youth titled “Girls” and by playing the song “Hot for Teacher” at a staff meeting.

The staff member, the district said, alleged Langston “created an uncomfortable work environment in these decisions and engaged in sex discrimination by treating certain individuals more favorably than others.”

He was placed on leave, district officials said, “because of the District’s obligation through Title IX to offer ‘supportive measures’ to both the complainant and the subject of the complaint.”

The investigation showed Langston did not engage in sex discrimination, district officials said, but that his reference to his school assignment and playing the song violated district policy “given the context of these actions.”

In a phone interview last Thursday, Langston said the district press release was factually accurate, though other details might give some perspective — the song was played after the staff meeting had concluded, and the school assignment he had shared in the spring was composed in sixth grade — were not included.

The principal also said he didn’t necessarily agree that being placed on leave was a correct course of action.

“Things could have been handled in a different way,” Langston said.

Langston was given a letter outlining future expectations, district officials said; in addition the district has contracted services with a mediator to work with SHS staff at the high school to “facilitate healthy open dialogue amongst the staff and has provided Mr. Langston with a mentor who can provide guidance as Mr. Langston continues to lead Sequim High School,” according to the statement.

Langston said the mediator talked with dozens of other staffers to get a “picture of the whole culture of the school” and that he is “excited for the opportunity to grow and learn from other professionals.”

The SHS principal said Pryne has been supportive and helpful in recent weeks.

“She kind of inherited the situation,” Langston said.

Both complaint investigations were handled internally through the district’s human resources department as well as Washington Risk Management Pool staff, Pryne said.

“We hope our actions demonstrate the seriousness with which we take complaints and the lengths we have gone to protect the dignity and privacy of our staff,” Balint wrote in last week’s message.

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