The principal of Bend’s Summit High School announced Monday she will be leaving the district at the end of the school year.

Alice DeWittie, now starting her sixth year at the helm of the west-side Bend high school, sent an email to Summit parents early Monday afternoon. The email does not go into detail as to the reasons behind DeWittie’s decision — instead, she thanked students, staff and families, and commended the administration for setting the district on a “course for innovation and excellence.”

“A time comes in everyone’s career when they wonder “what comes next,” and that time for me is here,” her email read in part.

DeWittie has been closely involved in the district’s efforts to develop small “strand” high schools, and was considered a leading contender to serve as principal of one of the two strand schools expected to open next year.

More recently, DeWittie has been the subject of controversy, stemming from an email she sent to staff at the private Seven Peaks School and an essay she wrote, “Engaging our Nation’s Children.” Both pieces of writing are tinged with Christianity and make multiple references to God, and in the essay, DeWittie suggests that public education should be restructured to conform with what she believes God would want.

DeWittie did not return a call seeking comment on Monday.

Julianne Repman, spokeswoman for Bend-La Pine Schools, said a district resident filed a complaint that stemmed from DeWittie’s writings, alleging her religious views were interfering with the district’s obligation to provide a secular education. Repman said the investigation was completed last week, and concluded DeWittie had not violated district policies.

Jay Mathisen, deputy superintendent for Bend-La Pine Schools, said prior to that complaint, he was unaware of any issues with DeWittie’s personal religious beliefs creating an uncomfortable environment on campus. He said the decision to leave the district at the end of this year was DeWittie’s alone.

“During that time I have never had anybody raise any concern with regards to ‘staying in her lane’ or ‘crossing any line’ with respect to religiosity,” he said.

Mathisen said DeWittie has been a valuable part of the district’s administrative team who has helped place Summit High School on the right course for the future.

Some parents of Summit students maintain DeWittie’s views compromised her ability to maintain religious neutrality at school.

Renee Mallet McGahan said she believes DeWittie’s beliefs were a factor behind Summit’s failure to take action to stop the bullying of her daughter.

McGahan said in 2012, DeWittie’s first year on the job, her daughter became the target of bullying by two girls who used their roles as editors of the senior yearbook to make sexual jokes at her daughter’s expense.

Efforts to get DeWittie to intervene to stop the bullying fell on deaf ears, McGahan said, and she came away with the impression that DeWittie was shielding her daughter’s bullies from consequences because they shared DeWittie’s belief system.

Stewart Fritchman, owner of Bellatazza Coffee in Bend and the father of two Summit students, said he’s heard multiple stories of DeWittie interjecting her personal beliefs into the day-to-day operations of the high school. Fritchman said maintaining the “wall between church and state” Thomas Jefferson described in writing about the First Amendment is central to operating a public school where students of all backgrounds feel welcome and supported.

“If any religion comes in to school, whether it’s Islam, Judaism, Christianity, it’s problematic for somebody,” Fritchman said.

Mathisen said the district is already working on recruiting DeWittie’s replacement. He said the district expects to start advertising for the strand school principal’s position next week, and for the Summit High School job in December or January. Mathisen said past experience suggests mid-winter job postings for large high school principal positions attract the best field of applicants.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387, shammers@bendbulletin.com

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