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Bayfield Middle School principal placed on administrative leave

School district is still working out who will serve as the principal in the interim
The principal at Bayfield Middle School, which has dealt with high teacher turnover this year, has been placed on paid administrative leave. Bayfield School District declined to explain why the principal was placed on leave. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Bayfield Middle School Principal Brandon Thurston was placed on paid administrative leave Thursday afternoon, said Kevin Aten, Bayfield School District superintendent.


He did not disclose the reason for Thurston’s suspension.

“It’s a personnel matter, it’s obviously a personnel matter and I have no further comment,” Aten said.

As of Saturday, the school district hadn’t yet identified who will fill in for Thurston during his leave.

“At this point, we have not made any exact decisions about how that’s going to work,” Aten said. “It’s a little bit up in the air, we’re still working through what the exact long-term structure’s going to be.”

Attempts to reach Thurston by email on Saturday were unsuccessful.

The middle school has had somewhat of a turbulent year.

In September, a young adult fiction novel containing LGBTQ-related content was removed from teacher Dana Gerrits’ classroom library.

The novel that was removed from Gerrits’ classroom was “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

Thurston told Gerrits that the book violates a school policy against controversial material, including swearing, underage drinking, LGBTQ relationships and LGBTQ hate crimes.

Aten said in September that the novel wasn’t an issue and that it had been mixed up with a personnel matter regarding a district policy that says controversial materials need administrative approval before being used in teachers’ lessons.

Controversial materials, according to the policy, include depictions of explicit sexual content, profanity, drug use, graphic violence, socially undesirable behaviors or materials that could divide the community along racial, ethnic or religious lines.

The novel is a coming of age story about family and friendship that contains potentially sensitive subject matter related to sexuality, substance use, racial identity, friendship and growth.

The novel is a recipient of the Michael L. Printz Award, which is issued annually to honor “the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit,” according to the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association.

Thurston’s placement on paid administrative leave is not the first staffing stumbling block that BMS has experienced this year.

The middle school has a turnover rate of 59% this year. Eleven teachers resigned and two teachers retired from the middle school between January and August, with five teachers or staff members resigning in October alone.

Former sixth grade social studies and English language arts teacher Alex Meisner, who left BMS in August, said a lack of teacher support by the district administration was his prime reason for leaving.

Meisner said the district administration doesn’t seek feedback from teachers, communication between the administration and teachers is lacking and expectations of teachers at the middle school are generally unclear.

The COVID-19 pandemic amplified the stress teachers face at the district, Meisner said; in November 2020, the administration ignored a letter signed by Meisner and about 40 other teachers asking for the middle school to return to remote learning because of rising COVID-19 cases.

Aten said he didn’t recall a letter from teachers in November 2020.


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