Newell reinstated as high school principal
After a lengthy investigation the Blaine school board has decided to reinstate Blaine high school principal Dan Newell, on administrative leave since being charged with rendering criminal assistance and obstructing a law enforcement officer, even though his case has yet to go to court.
The charges, both gross misdemeanors, were filed against Newell last January by the Whatcom County prosecutor in connection with a drug arrest made on the Point Roberts school bus in February 2004.
Blaine superintendent of schools Dr. Mary Lynne Derrington, speaking for the board, announced Tuesday that Newell will return to his responsibilities as principal on May 20 after serving a one month suspension without pay for “conduct warranting disciplinary action.” Derrington also informed all high school students and parents in an April 19 letter.
Derrington announced the board decision at a staff and faculty meeting at 7 a.m. on Tuesday morning. According to a teacher who was there and who declined to be identified, “most, but not all, of the teachers were relieved and happy about the decision.”
Derrington pointed out that the school board’s investigation happens independently of that done by law enforcement, and that the board “has reserved the right to reevaluate its position on this matter in light of any new facts or circumstances that may appear in connection with [ongoing] legal proceedings.”
Court documents allege that Newell warned former school board member Deb Hart that her daughter was under suspicion for smuggling drugs on the school bus. The daughter’s boyfriend, James Jarosz, was charged in June 2004 in Whatcom County Superior Court with three counts of delivery of marijuana and one count of conspiracy to deliver marijuana, both felonies. After jumping bail last winter he has since pled guilty to the charges and is currently in jail. (See adjoining story.)
Though the daughter admitted smuggling pot into Blaine for Jarosz, she was not arrested nor expelled from Blaine high school. Jarosz allegedly recruited other students to take the daughter’s place, and one of them was arrested after Newell allegedly warned Hart to keep her daughter off the bus.
Other students involved in the drug smuggling met with various consequences, according to information in superior court documents pertaining to Jarosz’s case. Some who admitted being involved were allowed to remain in school while at least one was expelled after being charged, a student who denied involvement and was later acquitted.
When asked about the apparent discrepancy in treatment between the students and between the students and Newell, Derrington emphasized repeatedly that the board’s investigation and actions applied solely to Newell’s conduct and was unrelated to the other cases involving students.
“This matter with Dan Newell is what we were investigating, not the students’ behavior,” she said, “and this is what we’ve decided to do about it.” Derrington did not elaborate on what factors influenced the board’s decision, but did estimate that the time spent by board and staff on the matter since January exceeded 80-plus hours.
Derrington’s letter states that the board felt Newell “engaged in conduct warranting disciplinary action,” and that their decision was to suspend him from his position as principal for one month without pay. “We will welcome Mr. Newell back as principal of Blaine high school on May 20,” the letter concludes.
Three days before that, on May 17, Newell will appear in Whatcom County District Court for his “omnibus” hearing prior to the case being heard in full, now set for the following month.