School Board does not terminate Benton Harbor High Principal
After a full day of meetings, testimony and a closed session, it appears Benton Harbor School leaders will not fire high school principal Rodger Tripplett.
Tripplett was being investigated for nearly 10 allegations of misconduct, including having inappropriate sexual material on his work email of underage students.
As we reported last week, Tripplett and his attorney say this meeting was as much about restoring his reputation as it was an effort to keep his job. Tripplett has been on paid leave since June.
He's tenured, so the board had the option of terminating his contract, but it looks like that won't be necessary.
The big charge Benton Harbor schools made against Principal Rodger Tripplett was possession and distribution of child sexually abusive material.
Tripplett admitted to viewing and receiving, but he objected to distributing.
"He forwarded the video," The attorney representing Benton Harbor Schools said. "There are codes that are placed in the subject line which indicate whether it was a reply or a forward. In this case it was a forward."
Tripplett decided to keep quiet about the video, besides forwarding it, instead of reporting it to authorities... And that's what landed him in such hot water.
"If one receives a video like that, they have an affirmative duty under Michigan law and also under the federal statutes to immediately contact law enforcement, turn over the material and not to retain that type of material." The attorney said.
He ignored Michigan law... But when he forwarded the video... It was to two other staff members with concern for the student.
"He didn't ask for the video," Tripplett's lawyer said. "She sent it. He receives it. He tells her 'Look. You don't want to be doing that. It can create trouble.' He sends the response to the administrators saying what? 'Please contact the parents. Let them know I'm available tomorrow. Immediately. For a meeting.'"
After letting others know, he went about his normal everyday routine interacting with students, including those involved, thinking it was all over. And the administrators let him.
"For two months he stayed principal of that school," Tripplett's lawyer said. "For two months he continued interacting with students including the student in question. He wasn't removed for investigation until after the students had left. So if those administrators genuinely believed that at the time they saw Mr. Tripplett int hat room or they claim they saw this student running out, then they had a duty to remove him at that moment, they would have done it and did not."
At the very end of the meeting, the board made a motion to end Tripplett's contract... But there weren't enough votes to terminate it... So Tripplett remains a district employee.
"I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the community of Benton Harbor for all of its love and all of its support and I also would like to thank the board of education for this decision. Thank you." Tripplett said.
It was not discussed if Tripplett will be reinstated at the high school or if his contract allows him to serve in a different role within the district.