Beaver Area Principal Resigns A Month After Community Members Protest And Superintendent Is Outed

Oct 23, 2018

It took only five minutes for a Beaver Area school board to accept the resignation of its high school principal during a special Monday meeting, putting a quiet end to a divisive issue among community members.

The fallout around the personnel matter led to a community rally and a public outing of the superintendent last month.

There were no comments from the school board or from the two dozen community members at Monday’s meeting. In a press release, the district said the resignation was part of a negotiated settlement between the district and former principal Steve Wellendorf who had worked for the district since August 2014. The release states that the principal is leaving the district in good standing.

It also confirms that Wellendorf was placed on leave in August when the administration became aware of “concerns regarding his workplace conduct.”

Superintendent Carrie Rowe declined to comment further only saying the conduct did not involve criminal allegations and that Wellendorf acknowledged that the district’s concerns did not relate to “his religious beliefs, affiliations or social opinions, nor were they the result of any personal animus directed toward him by any district employee or school board member.”

Several community members rallied last month before the school board meeting in support of Wellendorf.

They defended his character and said his leave confirmed a pattern of discrimination based on religious beliefs.

Luke Berardelli organized the September rally. He said he didn’t want Rowe’s contract to be renewed next year over what he described as a pattern of discrimination. As evidence of the administration’s bias, the parent pointed to an incident that made national headlines in 2017. At that time the district asked a student to revise a graduation speech that had been written in the form of a prayer, which Rowe said was not permissible during a state function.

“I think it took the community members a while to understand that this wasn’t a personal desire from me or any board member, but rather this was a well-established law. It would be unfounded for that to be any part of this issue,” Rowe said.

In November 2017, Rowe sent Bridges a letter explaining that the Beaver Area School Board had revised a policy regarding student expression. Rowe said the district no longer reviews students' graduation speeches and apologized for a lack of clarity about the policy. 

Before the September rally, an online blog post about Wellendorf’s leave noted “some individuals are targeting (superintendent) Rowe because of her sexual orientation.” The blog also connected Wellendof’s involvement with a Christian Youth Group and his own faith to his leave.

Berardelli said his call for the superintendent’s contract not to be renewed was, “never about any LGBT issues.”

Rowe said she became aware of claims that her sexuality impeded her objectivity through that article. At the September board meeting she told the crowd that she was gay and that her sexuality had been made part of the conversation.

After Monday’s meeting Rowe said she would work to move forward.

“As a community, we need to set aside our differences and work together toward our common goals. We request that the community discontinue its hurtful commentary where this matter is concerned, which has no purpose other than to perpetuate the division, and that we move forward together to support the success of our students,” she said.

Rowe acknowledged that the absence of more details about why Wellendorf resigned leaves room for speculation. But, she said Wellendorf is entitled to his privacy. She also said she hopes this can be a teachable moment for students.

She stressed that some, not all, community members who supported Wellendorf said that her actions were related to a “gay agenda” to keep people of faith out of the district.

“Which is patently false and absurd on a lot of levels,” she said.

But she is concerned that the negativity students saw on social media could affect them emotionally.

“We aren’t going to allow that type of bullying to happen internally from the district or externally from community members,” she said. “(We) celebrate and support all of our students no matter who they are, where they come from, who they love, that they have that safe space here.”