At Oxbow, Top Choice Gets Nixed

Bradford, Vt. — The Oxbow School Board has dropped its bid to hire a candidate for high school principal who was embroiled in controversy surrounding reporting abuse allegations.

Officials said the board decided in executive session Thursday night to “reluctantly not pursue” the candidacy of Noah Noyes for Oxbow High School principal.

Noyes, 30, was criminally charged last year with failure to report an allegation of child abuse after a student at Danville School claimed that a teacher touched her inappropriately.

The Danville student’s claims were found to be without merit, and the charges against Noyes were ultimately sent to diversion and will be expunged.

Noyes announced earlier he would step down as principal in Danville at the end of the school year.

In interviews Friday, School Board Chairwoman Kathy Damon and Orange East Supervisory Union Superintendent Beth Cobb said Noyes’ candidacy came down to a case of “wrong place, wrong time,” a sentiment shared by Noyes.

In recent years, two Orange East employees in Bradford, Vt., have been convicted of assaulting students, and the prospect of hiring Noyes’ ignited a firestorm among some community members who questioned why the board would consider someone caught up in such a controversy given the district’s history.

A principal position “is all about the right fit at the right time,” Noyes said, and there was “a little bit of a challenge with regard to the timing.”

“I’m certainly understanding (of) that, and what’s meant to be will be ... and I wish all the best to the Oxbow community,” he said.

Damon said the board did not make a motion at Thursday’s meeting. Instead, after Cobb made a recommendation not to move forward with Noyes, members agreed on a statement that said the board “still has confidence in (Noyes’) ability as a principal” but would not move forward in hiring him.

Cobb said it was a difficult decision that was influenced by negative reaction from both parents and faculty.

“I felt like I couldn’t bring Noah forward knowing that it would be difficult in the beginning for him, and I feel like I’ve worked hard to gain that trust and give people hope in the supervisory union and at Oxbow,” said Cobb, who started as an interim superintendent four years ago and is finishing her first year in the role full-time.

Cobb said the school district will hire an interim principal for 2014-15 and restart the search for a permanent replacement next fall.

Board members were disappointed with the outcome, Damon said.

Vermont’s mandatory reporting laws require certain people, including school officials, to report claims of child abuse to the Department for Children and Families within 24 hours. The law requires reporting if the official has “reasonable cause” to believe the allegation.

Similar charges against Martha Tucker, the superintendent in Danville, were dismissed earlier this week in Caledonia Superior Court by Judge Robert Bent, who found that there wasn’t enough evidence to trigger her responsibilities under Vermont’s mandatory reporter law, the Caledonian Record reported.

Cobb said Tucker’s hearing was not discussed very much during the Oxbow School Board meeting.

Several community members spoke out against Noyes’ potential hiring during a public forum on March 26 at the high school.

A parent who had opposed Noyes’ candidacy, Terri Clerico, of Bradford, said in an email Friday that she was “pleased that the School Board has decided to look for a different principal.

“Noah Noyes may be an honorable man who tried to do the right thing in his role as a mandatory reporter; however, the (Oxbow High School) community needs a principal with a clear idea of what needs to be done to protect our children from sexual predation,” Clerico said.

Two cases of teacher’s assaulting students have shaken the community in recent years.

Oxbow High School coach and physical education teacher Brian Musty pleaded guilty last month to sexually assaulting a student-athlete who was staying at his home in the late 1990s, and former Bradford Elementary School teacher Richard Foster was convicted in 2009 of producing child pornography involving two students. Foster died in prison while serving a 25-year sentence.

Cobb said that the timing of Musty’s conviction in the midst of the hiring process probably increased the controversy.

She said the “majority” of the search committee — which included Cobb, all six School Board members, three teachers, three community members and a student — had supported Noyes, who was one of two finalists.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.