COLLEGE PLACE — Washington state education officials have opened an investigation after a complaint was lodged by a retired Whitman College professor about College Place Public Schools.

A June 13 letter from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to James Winchell acknowledged receiving his complaint, in which he contends the school district failed to properly investigate his three-part allegation against the district filed in November.

Winchell’s formal complaint included the following:

  • An allegation that CPPS board members and Superintendent Tim Payne acted in a discriminatory manner by retaining former College Place High School Principal Kirk Jameson, who has since left the district, after an independent investigation last September by the Dan Beebe Group found instances of Jameson’s actions “could reasonably be interpreted as causing a discriminatory effect.”
  • A contention that the board failed to perform due diligence and oversight of CPPS Superintendent Tim Payne’s actions. By doing nothing, the board allowed a culture of fear to fester at the high school, evidenced by numerous parent complaints and survey responses, plus correspondence from the Walla Walla Valley Education Association regarding the atmosphere at the high school during Jameson’s tenure.
  • A claim that it was a conflict of interest for Payne to oversee the investigation of Jameson, and that Payne and the board inappropriately limited the scope of Beebe’s investigation of potential discrimination at the high school and in the district overall.

Winchell filed his complaint with the College Place School Board in November. Doug Case, board chairman at the time, replied in a letter dated Jan. 8 that the district denied the discrimination complaint.

Jameson left his position in December, saying he needed to take care of his aging parents. His contract with the district officially ends June 30.

Isaac Conver with OSPI’s office of equity and civil rights told Winchell in the letter his office will focus its investigation on whether CPPS appropriately looked into and responded to Winchell’s allegations.

Payne said Friday it took him and the board some time to understand Winchell’s complaint. As he understands the state’s letter, OSPI will look at whether Payne handled the complaint according to the district’s policies and rules.

“I think I tried to follow the rules, so I guess I will have to wait and see. Anybody from anywhere in the country can file a complaint, you don’t have to live in the district to do that,” he said, noting he kept the district’s policies on the desk in front of him to ensure compliance.

Winchell said he anticipates more could come to light as state officials begin looking through files and talking to employees at College Place schools.

Conver said in his letter that following his investigation, OPSI will make an independent determination as to whether CPPS is in compliance with state and federal nondiscrimination laws, regulations and guidelines, including sexual equality and equal educational opportunity.

“A complaint may also be resolved before the investigation is concluded if the complainant or the school district voluntarily agrees to resolve the complaint,” Conver wrote.

Mediation paid for by CPPS can also take place before the investigation is completed, he said.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.

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