Brattleboro Union High School still won’t say why principal remains on extended paid leave

Students return to Brattleboro Union High School this week for the start of a new academic year. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

As Brattleboro Union High School reopens this week for a new academic year, 50 teachers are welcoming 750 students from throughout town and the neighboring communities of Dummerston, Guilford, Putney and Vernon.

One person is notably absent: Principal Steve Perrin, who remains on paid leave four months after Windham Southeast School District leaders put him there without revealing the reason for his continued absence.

Neither the district school board nor Superintendent Mark Speno have said much more since.

“He was placed on leave in April by me, officially,” Speno said in an interview this week.

But the superintendent wouldn’t say why or whether he was directed to do so by another party.

“I’m not going to get into those weeds right now,” Speno said.

Perrin, who came to the school as a science teacher in 1995, was promoted to assistant principal in 2007 and to his current $120,000-a-year job in 2010.

Perrin attended the district school board’s regular meeting April 12 and spoke alongside other administrators about hiring challenges.

Two weeks later, then Assistant Principal Chris Day emailed students, families and staff a two-sentence message: “Hello BUHS Community, Mr. Perrin, the BUHS Principal, is currently on a leave of absence. Please feel free to contact myself as needed.”

At a public meeting May 3, Chair Kelly Young said the school board “certainly couldn’t comment” — a refrain that leaders repeated for more than three months before emailing two community messages in the days prior to this week’s start of classes.

The recent announcements revealed the school’s plans for installing temporary leadership but little else.

In one message, Cassie Damkoehler, the former dean of students who recently was promoted to assistant principal, reported she would temporarily replace Perrin for “as long as necessary.”

“While I can share that there has not been resolution in regards to (Perrin’s) leave, this presents our school with the challenge of having a very large unknown,” Damkoehler wrote. “I imagine this has created anxiety around what leadership structure will be in place at the start of school.”

In response, Damkoehler said she will be assisted by two newly hired colleagues, fellow Assistant Principal Traci Lane and Dean of Students Hannah Parker. 

The superintendent praised the trio in his own public statement.

“I completely understand the sense of urgency that is felt with lack of information in regards to Principal Perrin’s leave of absence,” Speno wrote. “That being said, we have three very strong administrators who are dedicated to creating a positive, safe and striving school environment in light of the challenges we face.”

“Although there are clearly still unanswered questions and there will be challenges,” Speno continued, “we are confident that we have developed a collaborative team approach that is more than capable of moving BUHS forward.”

In an interview this week, Speno said school leaders faced both legal and contractual limits on what they could reveal.

“We’re hoping for more clarity sooner than later,” he said, “but we don’t know when that date will be.”

Perrin, for his part, hasn’t responded to local media requests for comment this spring and summer.

Disclosure: Kevin O’Connor is the brother of Kerry Amidon, who represents Vernon on the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Board. That board hires the superintendent in charge of several schools governed by the separate Windham Southeast School District Board, including Brattleboro Union High School. 

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Kevin O'Connor

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