Idaho News

Middleton school board chairman urges calm following upset over principal’s ouster

Middleton High School Principal Benjamin Merrill
Middleton High School Principal Benjamin Merrill Middleton School District

The Middleton School Board decided Monday not to renew the high school principal’s contract, and that led to several days of turmoil in the district.

Many parents and students are upset that Benjamin Merrill won’t be back next year, KIVI-Channel 6 reported Wednesday. Some told KBOI-Channel 2 that they were launching a recall effort to remove the three school board trustees who voted Merrill out.

On Thursday, about 80 students walked out of school in protest, according to KTVB-Channel 7.

In a press release late Friday afternoon, School Board Chairman Tim Winkle said the “level of rancor” after their decision Monday night was worse than expected. He said one trustee needed a police escort to her car.

“The board can only ask patrons of the Middleton School District to move forward in the most positive manner that will best benefit the students of the Middleton School District,” Winkle wrote.

Winkle said that because the situation with Merrill is a personnel matter, the board is limited on what they can release.

Merrill told Channel 7 that a group of parents gave him a camera so that he could take pictures at school events, and sometime after that a teacher later gave him a hand-held game to give to his children.

Merrill alleged that district officials bullied and harassed him during an inquiry into whether the gifts violated district policy; his claims were investigated by the school board.

In an April 25 statement posted on the district website, the board said they found no factual basis to support Merrill’s allegations.

Their other conclusions were a mixed bag:

“There is a factual basis to conclude that Mr. Merrill has improved the climate for students and many parents at the high school, but that he has created a dysfunctional system for many of the staff and some of the directors that must be involved with the high school.”

Merrill became Middleton High School principal in July of 2017, according to his LinkedIn account. Prior to that, he was principal/director of instruction technology for the Baker School District in Baker City, Oregon, for five years.