Oregon School Principal Pushes Back After Demotion Over Anti-Gay Allegations

Jul 10, 2018
Originally published on July 10, 2018 2:38 pm

The high school principal on Oregon’s South Coast who was demoted over alleged anti-gay discrimination is pushing back.

The North Bend School District demoted Bill Lucero from high school principal to middle school vice principal, as part of a legal settlement involving the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon and the Oregon Department of Education.

Now Lucero’s attorneys are disputing the allegations in a letter to the school board and superintendent. One accusation that made national headlines was that Lucero had required a lesbian high schooler to read from the Bible as punishment for being gay. But that’s not what happened, according to a statement the attorneys have provided from the student involved. The student, who is not identified in materials provided to OPB, said that she’s not gay and that she agreed to read the Bible passage as punishment for her behavior in class.

"In approximately 2016 I was pulled out of the hallway for using foul language and yelling," the student wrote in a statement dated June 7, 2018. "My mother was called and came to the school. I was taken to Mr. Lucero's office to discuss my behavior."

"I was asked to read a verse from the ible that had to do with the slip of your tongue and how words affect people," she continued.

"This incident in no way was ever about my sexuality. I am not now or have ever identified with the LGBTQ community."

The student's statement goes on to praise Lucero and his role in helping her graduate.

Lucero's attorneys also raise questions about the integrity of the investigations by the school district and ODE, particularly how they approached an allegation involving Lucero's son, Brody.

The two female students responsible for the complaint had alleged that Brody Lucero had driven up close to them and then yelled an anti-gay slur at them. The attorneys said investigators didn't do an adequate job of researching the allegation.

"ODE interviewed Olivia Funk and Haley Smith, but surprisingly, made no request to speak with Brody Lucero," the attorneys said. "How ODE made factual findings about this incident without bothering to interview Brody Lucero is baffling and, is a move that certainly foreclosed any opportunity for the ODE investigator to assess the credibility of all parties involved."

According to the letter, the North Bend School District didn't interview the younger Lucero either, when it was handling the complaint before ODE. Attorneys for Bill Lucero said the district had its Title IX administrators lead the investigation into the students' discrimination complaint, but instead of interviewing Brody Lucero, investigators had his father, Bill, speak to him.

"Mr. Lucero complied with the request and spoke with Brody Lucero, who adamantly denied this incident ever happened," the attorneys' letter said.

The attorneys took aim at other aspects of the complaint, including an allegation of racism at the high school under Lucero.

Lucero's attorneys also said that the principal felt misled by the North Bend School District. They argue that as an administrator, Lucero was led to believe that the school district was representing his interests as it negotiated with ODE and the ACLU. Then Lucero was surprised to be demoted, and read statements from the NBSD stating officials were "pleased" with the settlement.

"The District and the District’s attorneys worked in concert with each other to violate Mr. Lucero’s rights in an effort to protect the District," the attorneys said. "The injury to Mr. Lucero was compounded by the directives from District staff prohibiting him from defending himself publicly."

The attorneys’ letter alleges damage to the former principal’s reputation, but it’s not a lawsuit notice.

In an email to OPB, Lucero attorney Roland Iparraguirre said his client is most concerned about the district and state, rather than the role of the ACLU.

"In our experience, the ODE has demonstrated an inability to conduct a fair, complete, and objective investigation," Iparraguirre said. "We recognize that the ACLU is simply advocating for their clients and we are not focusing on the ACLU's actions."

But the letter Iparraguirre sent with his law partner Shannon Rickard said the ACLU was a big factor in the district reaching a settlement. The letter provides evidence that the ACLU pressured North Bend school officials over the incident in Lucero's office, involving a student reading a religious text in a public school. The attorneys' letter quotes from a message sent by the ACLU's director Mat dos Santos on May 21, 2018.

"That one violation of law, that is already admitted will literally result in the automatic withholding, probably without return, of the about $32 million of its $38 million budget," the excerpt reads. "They just have to lose on the proselytization law to lose all of their state funding."

The legal settlement was announced later that day.

A message to the North Bend superintendent and school board chair wasn’t immediately returned.

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.