NORTH BEND — North Bend Middle School Vice Principal Bill Lucero is fighting back against the North Bend School District and the Oregon Department of Education.
He is not only calling for the initial investigation by the Oregon Department of Education to be put in question, but is also shining a light on the district for using him as a scapegoat.
His attorneys, Roland Iparraguirre and Shannon Rickard, sent a letter to the North Bend School District demanding Lucero’s job back at the high school, as well as damages paid.
“There was no lawful basis for removing Mr. Lucero as NBHS principal, and Mr. Lucero wishes to remain principal at NBHS,” read the June 12 letter. “We are currently evaluating any and all claims against the District for damages under state and federal law.”
According to the letter, those damages include economic and non-economic damages where Lucero “has suffered, among other things, severe emotional distress, mental anguish, the effects of stress on his mental and physical health, damage to his relationships, and damage to his reputation.”
“We are prepared to pursue all claims,” the letter promised, adding that “should litigation become necessary, we will seek attorneys’ fees and costs.”
In a Tuesday morning statement, Iparraguirre made clear that their focus is on the North Bend School District's treatment of Lucero, along with concern over ODE's investigation.
"We take no issue with the ACLU because they are simply advocating for their client the way advocates are supposed to," he said. "We can't fault an advocate. It was the district, with all the information they had, that decided to sacrifice Mr. Lucero's reputation and profession, and ODE's troubling investigation. . . In our experience, ODE has demonstrated an inability to conduct fair and unbiased investigations."
The ODE investigation
The letter illustrated how the district failed to stand up for Lucero during the course of ODE’s investigation, which revealed serious accusations from a teacher who compared same-sex marriage to bestiality, discrimination against LGBTQ students, and at least one student who was forced to read the Bible for punishment.
“We are carefully reviewing and analyzing the District’s actions in response to the ACLU and ODE,” the letter stated. “It is important to note, at the outset, that we are deeply troubled by the District’s actions. The more documents we review and analyze, the more concern we have that the District’s actions were unlawful and have significantly and irreparably harmed Mr. Lucero.”
According to the letter, the District was aware that ODE allegedly “conducted an unfair, incomplete, and biased investigation motivated by political outcomes instead of a search for the truth.”
“When given the opportunity to set the record straight and to challenge the allegations, the District chose to unlawfully sacrifice Mr. Lucero in an attempt to give the District a free pass on allegations of its own unlawful actions,” the letter said. “By signing a written settlement agreement to remove Mr. Lucero as NBHS principal, the District punished Mr. Lucero without just cause and without due process.”
Not only that, but the letter pointed out that the district should have also known the accusations made by the ACLU of Oregon “were false, inaccurate, and misleading.”
According to the letter, when the ACLU of Oregon communicated with the District, it allegedly informed them that because Lucero admitted to violating Oregon law in regards to using the Bible as punishment, it would result in “the automatic withholding, probably without return, of the about $32 million of its $38 million budget. They (District) just have to lose on the proselytization law to lose all of their state funding.”
The settlements were signed the same day.
It was the ACLU of Oregon’s settlement that resulted in Lucero’s demotion, five years of ODE oversight at the district, and included the district to work with the ACLU on creating new policies to avoid future discrimination, among other settlement agreements.
Forced to stay silent
Lucero’s attorneys wrote in the letter that the district and its attorneys “worked in concert with each other to violate Mr. Lucero’s rights in an effort to protect the District.”
Compounding that was “directives from District staff, District attorneys, and Brad Bixler (District HR Director/Communications Specialist) prohibiting him from defending himself publicly,” the letter stated.
After working in the district for 31 years, “the District unlawfully exchanged Mr. Lucero’s reputation, profession, and health, for protection against its own misdeeds, all while pretending that the District and its attorneys were representing Mr. Lucero’s interest,” the letter stated, adding that this was made worse when the district repeatedly told Lucero “not to say anything to defend himself.”
In fact The World had reached out to Lucero on numerous occasions for comment, but he was unable to provide any sort of statement.
“By entering into the settlements with the ACLU to punish only Mr. Lucero, and then claiming its pleasure with that outcome, the District essentially confirmed the accusations against Mr. Lucero, thus irreparably and permanently damaging him,” the letter read.
Of course, even as the June 12 letter stated, Lucero never denied having a student read the Bible.
His attorney’s obtained a statement from Student 3, who said, “I was pulled out of the hallway for using foul language and yelling. My mother was called and came to the school. I was taken to Mr. Lucero’s office to discuss my behavior. I was asked to read a verse from the Bible that had to do with the slip of your tongue and how words affect people. This incident in no way was ever about my sexuality.”
The World interviewed a previous student who also alleged to being forced to read the Bible for punishment and then encountered a current student during the student-led walkout against Lucero’s demotion who said he also had to read the same verse about “the slip of your tongue.”
Even though Lucero has confirmed Student 3’s account to ODE, “Nonetheless, on August 23, 2017, the attorney for the District incorrectly asserted to ODE that Mr. Lucero denied this accusation, thereby damaging Mr. Lucero’s credibility with ODE and further damaging Mr. Lucero’s reputation.”
“The principal’s son”
One of the most concerning accusations made by Lucero’s attorneys is that even though his son was implicated in ODE’s investigation, he was allegedly never interviewed.
The letter names Brody Lucero, who was accused by former NBHS student Hailey Smith of yelling homophobic slurs at her and Liv Funk before driving close to them.
After the district investigated, Bill Lucero was instructed to speak with his son.
“Mr. Lucero complied . . . and spoke with Brody Lucero, who adamantly denied this incident ever happened,” the letter stated. “Many months later, after the District failed to respond to (Hailey) Smith’s complaint in a timely manner, ODE performed its own investigation. . . .
“ODE interviewed Olivia Funk and (Hailey) Smith, but surprisingly, made no request to speak with Brody Lucero. How ODE made factual findings about this incident without bothering to interview Body Lucero is baffling and, is a move that certainly foreclosed any opportunity for the ODE investigator to assess the credibility of all parties involved.”
Iparraguirre and Rickard instructed the District to respond within two weeks or else litigation would begin. The World has asked if there has been any action taken either way, but is still waiting on an answer.
They also requested a copy of Lucero’s personnel file, including performance evaluations while he worked as principal at NBHS, and copies of the district’s files on the ACLU accusations and ODE’s investigation, both against Lucero and the district.
“It will be interesting, however, to evaluate whether the District appropriately followed its own process, policies, and protocols,” the letter read.
The World has reached out to the district, the ACLU of Oregon, and ODE for comment. Though the ACLU of Oregon and ODE are working on statements, there has been no response from the district.
In addition, The World requested from the District what Lucero's salary is following his demotion. When the district refused to provide that salary information, which is funded by taxpayers, The World filed a Freedom of Information Act request.
That FOIA is expected to be filled by Tuesday, July 10.