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Belfield school board votes nonrenewal for educator on medical leave

The Belfield School Board, following a nearly two-hour long executive session, voted to not renew the contract of teacher Kristy McDowell, who is currently on medical leave. Allegations have been raised that the decision was made as a result of her medical issues, and not as a result of her performance.

The Belfield School Board is pictured at a special meeting Tuesday, March 22, 2022.
The Belfield School Board is pictured at a special meeting Tuesday, March 22, 2022.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press

BELFIELD, N.D. — The Belfield School Board, following a nearly two-hour long executive session last week, voted to not renew the contract of one of their teachers, who is currently on medical leave. Allegations were quickly raised by a former teacher at Belfield that the decision was being considered as a result of her medical issues, and not as a result of her performance — in violation of the law.

The Belfield School Board met Tuesday, March 22, and deliberated in an executive session whether to move forward with the non-renewal of educator Kristy McDowell. The decision was voted upon, with one school board member abstaining from the vote. The board unanimously approved the non-renewal of McDowell, and declined to make any statements or answer questions from media present following the meeting.

McDowell declined to comment on the school boards' decision, citing that she is seeking legal representation on the matter. Belfield Superintendent Daren Kurle also chose not to comment on any of the proceedings related to the non-renewal of McDowell.

Following the meeting, The Dickinson Press obtained McDowell's contract through open records and will be covering any future litigation, should it arise.

Former Belfield Grade School Principal Marie Lorge, who’s now retired, noted to The Press that this proceeding was unusual.

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“... I just know that it was a real questionable process as far as being extremely speedy… as to the validity on some of the things that they said,” Lorge said.

On March 10, the school board agenda listed two alleged reasons for the non-renewal, and included, “ability to teach” and “competency to teach.” With McDowell being the reading specialist for 11 years, Lorge said that “seems to be a little off kilter.”

“I don’t know how someone can suddenly become not competent. And I know this is her first year teaching fourth grade, but she had those students and there were numbers of them every year for 11 years, taught them reading and I was her administrator. (I) never had any behavioral issues; she was able to maintain classroom stability and behaviors and in a very quiet and caring way I might add,” she said. “They’re saying some things about her that don’t quite add up. I don’t believe that someone can have a total and complete personality change in the course of basically a week because all of her evaluations and observations were very good. And then suddenly within the course of weeks, she just went off the rails and it just doesn’t really make sense to me. And this was such a hurried slam-bang thing. And there are politics in school as much as we hate to believe it and admit it, there are politics in schools and it’s unfortunate, but it’s a fact.”

Kristy McDowell is shown.
Kristy McDowell is shown.
Contributed / Belfield Public School

As a former educator of 46 years, Lorge said that the process of non-renewing McDowell could have been handled differently.

“I don’t have a problem non-renewing somebody if that’s what needs to be done. But I think part of our job is, as an administrator, to work with our teachers as well as our students and our parents and we are, I believe, almost required to get teachers every opportunity to improve and get better if there’s a problem. We have to provide those opportunities for them whether it be a mentor or an improvement plan,” she added.

Related Topics: DICKINSONEDUCATION
Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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