UNION COUNTY — The firing of Adrian School District Superintendent Kevin Purnell by his school board on Monday, Aug. 30, dismayed area school leaders.
Purnell was fired for not following board directives, Adrian School Board chair Eddie Kincade told the Malheur Enterprise. Kincade declined to elaborate but there are many indications, the Malheur Enterprise reported, that the board wanted Purnell to take a stand against Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID-19 mask and vaccination mandates for schools. Purnell, though, insisted on following the rules and this is believed to be the reason the board fired him.
“It was very shocking that something like that happened so close to home,” said Union School District Superintendent Carter Wells. “It would be horrific if that happened in this valley.”
North Powder School District Superintendent Lance Dixon said he is disturbed that a superintendent could be dismissed for following state rules. Purnell was with the Adrian School District for 14 years and had been its superintendent for three years.
“I know Kevin. He is a great guy,” the North Powder superintendent said.
Dixon said that as a superintendent one of his most important responsibilities is to limit the liability his school district faces. He said that asking a superintendent not to follow state rules in no way limits the liability a school district faces.
“Our job is to protect our district,” Dixon said.
The Malheur Enterprise reported on Sept. 8 that the Adrian School District will pay Purnell more than $100,000 as part of the settlement he signed when he was terminated. The agreement represents 10 months remaining on Purnell’s contract, which was to end next June.
The Malheur Enterprise reported that in the deal, Purnell agreed not to sue the district.
The North Powder superintendent said the firing of Purnell is an indicator of the turbulent times we are living in.
“It is a very, very, troubling time. It is a sad outcome when someone is fired for following the rules,” Dixon said.
Cove School District Superintendent Earl Pettit also knows Purnell and speaks highly of him.
“He is a great administrator. I really respect him,” Pettit said.
The Cove superintendent has a different perspective though on Purnell’s dismissal. He said that a superintendent is supposed to do what his school board wants the district leader to do.
“You are accountable to the people that put you there. You do what the board wants or you don’t belong there,” Pettit said.
Imbler School District Superintendent Doug Hislop said he is being careful not to rush to judgment on the Purnell issue, since it is not known precisely why the Adrian superintendent was dismissed. Hislop said many superintendents he has been talking to since the dismal of Purnell speak of the importance of having a “just cause” clause in their contracts. He said that without a just cause a school board can dismiss a superintendent without a valid reason.
Hislop said that if Purnell was indeed fired for following state rules, its move is one he does not support.
“If it did it for that reason, I do not support it one bit,” he said.
Mark Mulvihill, superintendent of the InterMountain Education Service District, said it was painful to learn of Purnell’s firing.
“The superintendency is a brotherhood and a sisterhood. It is a very lonely and difficult job. We hang together and support one another. Anytime we see a superintendent dismissed under difficult circumstances it is hard on us,” Mulvihill said.