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Principal reinstated

Superintendent said that, after further review, Cheri Rasmussen should return to Crooked River Elementary

HOLLY SCHOLZ - Crooked River Elementary Principal Cheri Rasmussen returned to ecstatic staff and students Thursday morning, receiving hugs, flowers — and even a showering of silly string.

Cheri Rasmussen is back to school.

A gymnasium full of students and staff welcomed her back Thursday morning to the tune of "You Are My Sunshine," along with flowers, blow horns, balloons and silly string.

"Without the support of God, my family, and all of the support that I've got from staff and parents, it would have been a much more difficult thing to get through, and I am so humbled, so humbled," Rasmussen said between hugs from students and staff.

Crook County School District Superintendent Duane Yecha announced Wednesday afternoon that Crooked River Elementary Principal Cheri Rasmussen would return to work the following day, after being on paid administrative leave since April 19.

The decision came after a school board meeting Monday evening, when an emotional crowd of more than 120 Rasmussen supporters made it clear to Yecha and the school board that they were "standing strong" for Rasmussen.

"I am thankful for the community input, and yes, it influenced me to complete this quickly," Yecha said. "I am accountable to always listen and respond to community concerns."

He said the district's investigation is not continuing.

"We had a request to interview more staff, and that request was retracted," Yecha said, noting that the interview process would have taken quite a bit more time.

The District Attorney's office conducted a harassment investigation relating to Rasmussen's April 12 discipline of a student. The DA determined there was no criminal action. The school district, however, completed its own investigation.

"The information provided to the district in this matter was reviewed in the context of law and policy regarding student restraint and privacy, and we have determined that Cheri should, and will, return to her position as principal of Crooked River Elementary School on Thursday, May 11, 2017," Yecha stated Wednesday.

"Principals play a critical role in our community and it is appropriate to have high expectations for those individuals," Yecha stated. "At the same time, it is equally important for our schools to function as they should, to have open lines of communication between administration and staff, and between the administration, the parents, and the community without worry or concern for retaliation or retribution."

Yecha said that public education is regulated by state and federal laws and administrative rules, and there are times when a statute or rule comes into question requiring an investigation.

"Simply because an investigation is instituted is by no means an indictment against those involved in the process. And it can be an effective means of reaffirming our individual and collective commitment to providing our kids and our community with the best education," Yecha stated. "The district is committed to conducting such investigations in a fair and thorough manner, which can be a time consuming process."

Crook County Middle School Assistant Principal Kimberly Bonner served as interim CRE principal for two and a half weeks while Rasmussen was on leave.

'Standing strong for Cheri' at the school board meeting

Monday evening's regular school board meeting was moved from the district office to the larger Crook County Middle School cafeteria to make room for the anticipated crowd of Rasmussen supporters.

CRE staff, parents of CRE students, and concerned community members filled the venue, and while the topic was not on the agenda, board members allowed time for public comment at the beginning of the meeting.

Not only did they come to "stand strong" for Rasmussen, they also came with questions. They wanted to know when Rasmussen would be back to work, how the district's investigation differs from the district attorney's investigation, and who was in charge of the investigation and Rasmussen's future.

But they received few answers during the somewhat tense meeting.

"Our district investigation is based on state and federal education and administrative conduct laws, not on a criminal investigation — it's much different," Board Chairman Doug Smith told the crowd. "The board can listen to your comments tonight, but we cannot respond or make comments about confidential personal information or investigations."

CRE fifth-grade teacher Stacy Stringer spoke on behalf of the CRE staff while her coworkers stood behind her in support of Rasmussen.

"We ask that you end Mrs. Rasmussen's inquisition and persecutions, allowing our school and community to move forward and to begin the healing process," Stringer said. "There is a great void in our school and in our hearts. That void goes by the name of Cheri Rasmussen."

Of the 13 individuals who spoke in favor of Rasmussen, more than half were parents of current CRE students. They shared heartfelt stories of the popular principal and how she has positively influenced their children.

"Our family loves Cheri," said Aaron Mapes. "I think it speaks volumes to see the staff here in solidarity and standing up for their leader."

Traci Barrett and Jessica Lay, mothers of CRE fifth-graders, tearfully implored the board for her return before their children graduate from elementary school.

"He has waited five years to run the line while all the other grade levels give them high fives and cheers of congratulations, you made it, and it just will not be the same without her there," Barrett said of her son.

"You guys are robbing them of their last time with their precious principal," Lay said. "That is shameful. I know you have to do your job, and I'm not here to attack you, but this is shameful. You need to come up with an answer and get her back to her job because these fifth-graders deserve to finish this year with their principal and to see her smile at them in the hall and give them a high five and tell them she loves them."

In a statement from the school district, Rasmussen said, "I appreciate and respect the fact that we must always be cognizant of the district's rules and policies, as well as the Oregon statutes and administrative rules that govern our teachers and our principals. Clearly there are often better ways to do something. We are all lifelong learners and sometimes it takes a process like this to remind ourselves of our commitments to the system and to each other. My commitment is, as always, to be, in the eyes of my colleagues, the administration, and the kids, an outstanding principal, and I will strive to continue to improve as a leader in our educational community."