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PRINCIPAL 'VINDICATED' AS BOARD DROPS CHARGE

The Barker School Board's settlement with Elementary School Principal Roselyn Morgan turned out Friday to be much the settlement the Mrs. Morgan's defense team had sought all along.

The board unanimously "vindicated" the suspended principal in a statement issued Friday.

The board dropped charges it had filed against Mrs. Morgan last October. The board had tried to prove those charges, which cost district taxpayers more than $100,000. That hearing now is canceled without a verdict being reached.

The statement read, "The Board of Education . . . without admitting misconduct, has today agreed to withdraw the pending charges against Mrs. Roselyn Morgan and reinstate her as principal of the Pratt Elementary School.

"Mrs. Morgan, who has vigorously denied and defended herself against these charges . . . has expressed satisfaction that she was vindicated by this resolution," the statement added.

However, her job reinstatement will be brief. Mrs. Morgan, 59, is expected to take early retirement, the statement said. Superintendent Judith Staples said that retirement would take effect Aug. 20.

Mrs. Morgan also agreed to drop plans to file defamation lawsuits against Merrill S. Bender, James R. Fisher, Priscilla Whitford and Douglas K. Lewis, the four School Board members who voted to bring the charges in the first place.

Mrs. Staples said Mrs. Morgan receives no financial settlement. As provided by state education law, Mrs. Morgan was paid throughout her suspension.

Mrs. Morgan's former attorney, Beverly R. Hackett, said she had hoped all along that "the board would come to the right decision. Our mission has been to sustain Mrs. Morgan's innocence, counter the politically motivated allegations against her and fight for her rights to due process. This agreement accomplishes our mission."

By a 4-3 vote, the board had charged Mrs. Morgan with directing third-grade teachers to erase or point out pupils' wrong answers on a Pupil Evaluation Program reading test given May 9, 1996. The statewide test is used to compile the state Education Department's widely publicized school report cards.

The principal, a veteran of 37 years of public education, was also accused of trying to get revenge on Bonnie Buri and Pamela Schunk, two untenured teachers who reported the alleged cheating, by turning in trumped-up negative job evaluations against them.

The School Board ordered those documents removed from the teachers' personnel files last summer. Neither teacher would comment Friday. Both are still at Barker and will be eligible for tenure next year.

Mrs. Staples said the settlement was worked out this week in talks involving herself, school attorney Robert M. Pusateri, Mrs. Morgan and Costello.

Mrs. Morgan's hearing, held in public at her request, had begun Feb. 14. On June 19, the process broke down when the defense did not appear for a session.

Hearing officer James B. Atleson said Ms. Hackett had told him the night before that it wouldn't make sense to hold any more hearings in light of the outcome of the Barker election.

On June 11, district voters had ousted Bender and Lewis, two of the four members who voted to charge Mrs. Morgan. They were replaced by Charles K. Stodolka and Donald DeMallie, both former trustees who were regarded as favoring a settlement of the case.

Atleson agreed with a motion to cancel the hearings and directed written closing arguments to be submitted.

Mrs. Staples and School Board members reached by The News all refused to explain why the board had decided July 9 to restart the hearings, and then reversed course and settled.

"I think the board was offered an opportunity that didn't exist two weeks ago," Stodolka said. He added the board explored that opportunity, which he would not explain, and a settlement resulted.

Mrs. Staples said, "When the board got new information, they acted on the new information. I believe the board made excellent decisions both times. You have to realize the board (voted) 7-0 both times."

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