Durango School District Superintendent Dan Snowberger told the school board Wednesday that a 911 call involving the district’s public information officer, Julie Popp, came after school hours on a day when Popp, who was at the school as a parent not as an administrator, had a heated discussion at the school.
Snowberger’s explanation at a special work session called by the 9-R Board of Education is the first time he has publicly provided details about the Oct. 19 incident at Needham Elementary School. Previously, the superintendent – and the school’s principal – had denied an incident took place, and he had refused to acknowledge police records about the incident.
Snowberger is currently on medical leave to help his wife, Olga, who was severely injured in a car crash Nov. 30. He met with the board during a special work session Wednesday to address the Needham incident, as well as allegations included in a white paper written by a group of concerned residents about discrepancies and inaccuracies on his past résumés. Before the meeting, Snowberger said his wife’s recovery will be slow and she remains unable to walk without assistance.
Nancy Stubbs, school board president, said the work session was held to clear up misunderstandings, to examine ways to prevent similar misunderstandings and poor communication from happening, and to begin addressing any policy changes that would help prevent unclear communications.
Snowberger said the 911 call on Oct. 19 about Popp was prompted after a conversation between her and staff at the school escalated. He said the school’s principal, Jenny McKenna, asked Popp to leave the school and not return until after meeting with a neutral third party and school officials.
However, Popp returned to the school later that day for a Halloween event. McKenna directed her assistant to call 911 to report that Popp was trespassing. The assistant later told the 911 dispatch operator that Popp had left the Needham campus and police did not need to respond. But officers were also informed that Popp would “(possibly) be armed if she returns back to Needham tonight,” according to a detail report kept by the Durango Police Department. Snowberger did not address why the dispatcher in the 911 call informed responders that Popp might be armed.
Snowberger told the school board Wednesday that he learned about the incident Nov. 5. That is the same day a Durango Herald reporter contacted him for comment about the incident. In an email to the Herald, Snowberger wrote, “I have no clue what you are referring to. I am not aware of any such incident.” A Herald reporter offered to send the police incident call log to Snowberger.
In response, he wrote: “We have no information about any such incident so would love to see any police report you have. I believe Ms. McKenna has shared that some (sic) information with you.”
Snowberger repeatedly denied the incident and accused the Herald of “slander” of Popp. Two weeks later, Snowberger and McKenna sent separate emails to 9-R parents and staff about the incident. Snowberger wrote that he was trying to protect Popp’s privacy, but he did not explain what prompted the 911 call. McKenna did not explain what took place either.
The meeting with the neutral party has occurred, and Snowberger said Popp is now allowed on Needham grounds.
Since the 911 call, Snowberger said 9-R is directing school resource officers to head to a school during confrontations that don’t present an imminent danger to separate parties before a 911 call is placed to police.
School board member Shere Byrd recommended the district issue regular reports monitoring breaches of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which “is a federal privacy law that gives parents certain protections with regard to their children’s education records, such as report cards, transcripts, disciplinary records, contact and family information, and class schedules.”
Since the Oct. 19 incident occurred, Snowberger has repeatedly cited FERPA as a reason for not providing an explanation. However, the Herald’s attorney, Steven Zansberg of Ballard Saphr LLP, said this is a misinterpretation of the act.
Snowberger told the board he expects to return to work Jan. 7.