Seven Peaks School fired its principal earlier this month, and on Friday filed a lawsuit against her, seeking the return of thousands of electronic files the private school says the former principal downloaded illegally.
The Bend school, which serves about 240 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, fired principal Megan Martin on Sept. 7, according to the lawsuit filed in Deschutes County Circuit Court.
Martin was “specifically instructed to not access school accounts” and turn over any Seven Peaks property, including files, computers, keys and keycards, according to court records.
Martin returned her school-issued laptop and school keys the day after she was fired. On Sept. 14, the school’s board of directors learned Martin “improperly and without authorization” downloaded about 5,900 of the school’s electronically stored files by accessing a web-based cloud service through her private email account, according to court documents.
The files Martin allegedly accessed contained highly sensitive student and parent information including psychological evaluations and personal information for students, parents and staff, according to court records. Martin allegedly accessed the files on Sept. 6 and Sept. 11.
Seven Peaks then sent, and hand-delivered, a letter to Martin requesting she return the documents “and mitigate the harm caused by her actions,” court records said.
As of the day the lawsuit was filed, Martin had not returned the files, according to court documents.
Martin did not return a request for comment on Tuesday afternoon.
Tuesday evening, Seven Peaks’ interim principal Kent Vallier confirmed in an email that Martin is no longer with the school. Vallier said it’s not the school’s policy to share details on personnel issues. The school’s board of directors has formed a principal search committee, and the school has taken “prompt action” to address the “recent data breach,” he said.
“As we work together to build a new leadership team, our students continue to be our primary focus,” Vallier said in the email.
Vallier has been the school’s assistant principal since August 2014.
The suit states Seven Peaks School has ownership of its computer files “the same as it has ownership over its paper files, textbooks and desks.” The school is claiming its entitlement to possession of the electronic files, and wants the court to order Martin to immediately return the files and requests damages to be named later.
In “a message from the board” emailed to parents on Sept. 21 and forwarded to The Bulletin, the Seven Peaks School Board said it discovered a “former Seven Peaks employee” accessed and either downloaded or transferred thousands of files from Seven Peaks’ cloud service to an unknown personal drive. The letter to parents also noted the employee had linked her personal account to the cloud service the night before her “separation from employment” with the school.
In the suit, the school states Martin’s “conduct was willful, intentional, malicious and outrageously beyond the bounds of socially tolerable conduct.”
Martin made about $112,000, according to a 2015 Form 990, the most recent tax form available on GuideStar, a database that provides information on nonprofit organizations, such as Seven Peaks School.
That salary was an increase from Martin’s pay, according to a 2014 Form 990, of $102,000, which was a slight decrease from the year before, at $103,000.
In an email addressed to a staffer at Seven Peaks School and forwarded to The Bulletin, Alice DeWittie, principal at Summit High School in the public Bend-La Pine school district, took a religious stance as she implored the staffer “and the other believers at 7 Peaks” to “take on the role of being light and bearing His Presence.”
DeWittie offered advice, going on to write: “God is shifting from direct leadership to shared Presence at 7 Peaks. Being His light means walking in forgiveness and not revenge, moving in the direction of love, peace, and joy not fear, anger, and gossip.”
She encourages the staffer to pray for the school’s board as well as the “principal (whoever it ends up being).” DeWittie sent the message from a personal email account.
DeWittie, who recently informed The Bulletin she is a close personal friend of Martin’s when discussing the agreement the two schools had made to share a music teacher, did not return a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.
DeWittie’s email is not her first time connecting religion to education, although in the past DeWittie has said she keeps her personal view separate from her leadership role in a public high school.
Publicly, DeWittie has written about how her Christian faith informs her thinking about education.
Her description of the small high school in Bend-La Pine she will take over in the fall echoes her thoughts in a recent essay entitled “Engaging our Nation’s Children.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org