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Fargo school employee claims assistant principal bullied her; board to review complaint

The teachers union is backing the employee’s allegations that the assistant principal was “unprofessional, intimidating, threatening and disrespectful.”

Fargo School Board meeting in December 2021
The Fargo School Board meets in December 2021.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum
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FARGO — Fargo's teachers union is pushing for a rare response from the school district regarding allegations that a Bennett Elementary assistant principal bullied an employee.

Fargo Public Schools has already investigated the conflict and ordered both parties, assistant principal Julie Frank and positive behavior interventionist Carol Saville, to attend mediation meetings. However, the union has now filed a "Level 4 complaint" after the district's investigators — associate superintendent Missy Eidsness and human resources director Doug Andring — found Saville’s claims to be mostly unsubstantiated.

The conflict between Frank and Saville began in September and a complaint was first filed on Nov. 5. On Tuesday, Jan. 11, the issue will come before the Fargo School Board for a possible decision.

“This is the first time a Level 4 complaint has been lodged during my 10.5 years with the district,” said district spokeswoman AnnMarie Campbell, adding that Frank and district administrators could not comment on the matter.

District policy outlines the protocols through each complaint level, and when brought to a Level 4 the board has 30 calendar days to render a decision in writing. Employees discuss a complaint with a direct supervisor at Level 1, which is then brought to a principal at Level 2, then the superintendent at Level 3, and finally to the school board at Level 4. The district defines complaints as allegations that there's been a personal loss, injury or inconvenience that affects an employee's working conditions.

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The teachers union, also known as the Fargo Education Association, is backing Saville’s claims that Frank was “unprofessional, intimidating, threatening and disrespectful,” and violated rules on staff conduct, employee speech and disturbance at a public school, according to a Dec. 15 letter the union sent to the district.

“Ms. Frank is bullying Ms. Saville,” the union wrote in the letter signed by Saville and FEA President Kim Belgarde. Belgarde said the union, which is representing Saville, is declining to comment on the matter and will present their arguments to the board at Tuesday's meeting.

The union wants Frank to receive a formal letter of reprimand and for her to write a sincere letter of apology. The union is also asking for Frank to receive mentoring and remediation that includes anti-bullying strategies, and for her to be placed in a different position.

“As an instructional leader, it is imperative that Ms. Frank be respected and trusted by her staff. She needs to understand that her behaviors can damage credibility with her staff and compromise her ability to affect teaching and learning in a positive way,” the union's letter stated.

The district “thoroughly investigated” all potential administrative policy violations, including an allegation of a disturbance at a public school that could have involved law enforcement, according to a Dec. 7 letter Superintendent Rupak Gandhi wrote to Saville.

The union's letter did not specify which alleged violation could have prompted a law enforcement response. Campbell said no law enforcement agencies were involved in the district's investigation.

“While FPS did not find there to be a violation of policy, it did find that the relationship and communication between the parties needed improvement,” Gandhi wrote.

The disturbance at a public school allegation was especially concerning to investigators.

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“An allegation concerning a violation of this statute by an employee is incredibly serious. If the evidence even remotely supported this allegation, it would be the responsibility of FPS to forward the complaint to law enforcement for investigation and criminal prosecution,” Gandhi wrote.

During the investigation, statements from Frank and Saville contradicted each other; witness statements did not provide enough evidence that a policy violation had occurred; and Saville’s claims were not substantiated, according to a Dec. 3 letter from Eidsness, one of the investigators.

Additional claims by Saville that Frank violated student restraining policies by allegedly grabbing a student by the arm and “yanking the student off the counter” also were not substantiated, according to the district’s investigation report filed Nov. 19.

Frank denied any misconduct related to student restraining policies, according to the investigation report.

Testimony from Sara Shafer, Bennett Elementary’s principal, said Saville isn’t able to “get her work done or student plans finished,” according to the investigation report.

Jennifer Fisher, a positive behavior technician with the district, testified that she sometimes needs to work with Saville and that Saville “escalates students at times, instead of deescalating,” according to the investigation report.

The union alleged that Frank yelled at Saville in front of a student on Oct. 29, saying “Carol, get out of here, I can’t even look at you… Carol, no, get out of here now, I need you to get out of here before I say or do something to you I may regret.”

Later that day the student involved allegedly echoed the outburst saying: “Get out, she said I don’t have to be in the same room as you,” according to Saville’s statements in the union's letter.

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During the investigation, Frank acknowledged she made some of the statements, adding that she may have sounded harsh, that she doesn’t have a “warm and fuzzy” look to her, and that she needed Saville to leave the room at times because “she escalates the situation instead of making it better.”

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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