HELENA — The Poplar School Board has voted to keep a principal accused by some parents of shaming their children during an assembly in a middle school where five students killed themselves and 20 others attempted suicide last year.
Parents had called for Patricia Black's dismissal, saying that she humiliated dozens of children in grades 5-7 who were failing at least one class by separating them by name from the rest of the approximately 160 students gathered at the Sept. 27 assembly.
Black has said she never announced why she was calling the students to the gym floor that day, and that her intention was to give the students a pep talk after the assembly on how they can improve their grades.
The school board met privately Tuesday and Thursday on the matter. After meeting in executive session on Thursday, the board voted 4-0 to retain Black as principal, Superintendent Charles Cook said Friday.
"The Poplar School District Board of Trustees realizes the seriousness of the mistake made by Middle School Principal Patricia Black in releasing student grade information without parental permission," Cook said in a statement. "The school board has addressed this matter and is taking steps to rectify it."
"While the error made in this case is unfortunate, Patricia Black has apologized to the students and promised to do everything she can to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of student records information in the future," Cook said.
Black did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday.
Poplar Middle School is a state-run school located on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, and the majority of the students are Sioux and Assiniboine Indians. The middle school teaches fifth through ninth grades in Poplar, a poverty stricken town with fewer than 1,000 people.
Last year, five students committed suicide and 20 others tried to take their own lives, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
This is Black's first year as principal, though she has taught at the middle school in the past.
Tribal leaders had worried Black's actions could mean a setback for children trying to recover from the deaths. They had said that while they believed what she did was wrong, they were reserving judgment and were hopeful that a solution could be reached that would satisfy everybody.