Durango School District 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger apologized in a letter that was posted to the district’s website Thursday for his handling of a 911 call that involved a district employee and subsequent communications with The Durango Herald.
“I apologize for my part in the recent chain of events and the news coverage that has cast a negative light on the district,” Snowberger wrote. “I certainly own my behaviors and recognize that hindsight is always 20/20. I deeply regret that I allowed my personal feelings and frustrations to lead me to engage in an exchange over semantics over an incident that occurred within our school district.”
Snowberger was referring to how he responded to questions from the Herald about why police were called to Needham Elementary School in October because a district employee was reportedly banned from the campus and was trespassing.
9-R school board member Stephanie Moran said Thursday that the letter of apology will prove helpful.
“I believe it is going to help the community understand where the superintendent was coming from, and I support moving forward from here,” she said in a telephone call.
Moran also said the board is preparing its own response to recent events and how it will address concerns that have arisen.
She took issue with an editorial published Wednesday in the Opinion section of The Durango Herald that was critical of the school board.
“We want the community to have an understanding of the role and duties of the school board. I believe the last editorial in the Herald was not reflective of what we do, and this document should help clarify that,” she said.
School board member Shere Byrd said the board asked Snowberger to apologize.
“We thought it was needed,” Byrd said.
Mick Souder, also a board member, declined to comment about the letter until the board issues its own statement about recent events. Nancy Stubbs, president of the school board, was traveling Thursday and did not respond to an email seeking comment as of 8:30 p.m.
On Oct. 19, an assistant at Needham called 911 and reported that a district employee, 9-R Public Information Officer Julie Popp, was banned from Needham Elementary School and was on school grounds. The assistant said she was calling at the direction of Needham Principal Jennifer McKenna.
During the call, the assistant said Popp had left the school and police were not needed. She did say that if Popp returned to Needham, she may be armed.
Initially, Snowberger and McKenna denied an incident took place and refused to discuss the matter with the Herald.
“I have no knowledge of such an incident at Needham,” McKenna wrote to the Herald in an email Nov. 6.
The Herald provided Snowberger and McKenna with a call detail report from the Durango Police Department and an audio recording of the 911 call to police dispatch.
In a Nov. 5 email to the Herald, Snowberger said he had “no clue” about the situation with Popp. In a follow-up email Nov. 15, he said the Herald was attempting to slander an individual “without evidence” and the action was “sad and despicable.”
Ten days later, after the Herald published a story about their denial that an incident took place, Snowberger and McKenna issued two separate letters to staff and parents, both acknowledging the incident.
McKenna wrote her letter to parents of Needham students: “There was a call placed to law enforcement from Needham on October 19. I requested the call because I believed an officer could better communicate with a parent than I could.”
In his Nov. 25 letter to staff and parents, Snowberger detailed the situation that took place at Needham.
“In our world of divisiveness, it is not uncommon for passions to create uncomfortable situations between parents and school staff,” he wrote.
Snowberger wrote that he withheld information about the incident, in part, because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
The school district still has not explained why 911 was called Oct. 19 and why the district’s spokeswoman was apparently banned from Needham Elementary, nor has it addressed why the assistant and principal reported Popp could be armed upon return.
In a telephone interview Thursday, Byrd said she “could not say” if Popp is banned from Needham Elementary.
She also declined to say if Popp, Snowberger or McKenna have been disciplined in connection with any of the events related to the 911 call. She called it a “personnel matter.”
In his apology letter, Snowberger wrote: “The situation at Needham Elementary on October 19 was further complicated by a 911 call that was placed, which is standard district protocol when conflicts occur between individuals so we can ensure the safety and civility of our campuses. The individual was identified as an employee to dispatch but was on campus in his/her capacity as a parent. Similar situations like this occur more than most readers may know. It is common for our administrators to request law enforcement to step in and separate parties until a situation can be dealt with carefully and in a manner that doesn’t impact the school environment. These calls are sometimes placed to our School Resource Officers, sometimes through the non-emergency dispatch line, and sometimes to 911.”
In his apology letter, Snowberger also acknowledges frustrations with the Herald over its coverage.
“While I have great respect for The Durango Herald as an institution and the many talented staff who put the needs of this community first in covering important stories, this exchange clearly frustrated me based on the confidential nature of the incident and my concern for the parties involved. Yes, we may not always like the coverage or their interpretation of events, we do appreciate their coverage of the many school events and student successes achieved in our community.”
Snowberger also asked the community to judge him on his overall performance:
“While I own my behavior in being pulled into a regrettable exchange, I will ask the community to judge me based on my overall performance. Our staff of 730+ require a leader who has the faith and trust of the community. I hope that I can restore trust with those who have questioned my leadership during this most recent exchange, as we continue with our ongoing projects to make Durango the most supportive district for students in Colorado.
“I appreciate the feedback many of you have sent me about this issue and extend tremendous thanks for the continued support. I also appreciate the support received from so many following the tragic accident my family has experienced.”
On Nov. 30, Snowberger and his wife, Olga, were involved in an auto accident on U.S. Highway 160, about a mile east of Elmore’s Corner in which Olga suffered fractures of her pelvis and severe bruising.
Snowberger has taken an extended medical leave to help his wife recover.