Dublin middle school principal on leave after heated exchange with high school student

DUBLIN — The principal of a Dublin middle school was put on paid administrative leave Monday after a video was taken showing him in a heated exchange with a mother and her high school son.

“The Dublin Unified School District is aware of an incident on the Wells Middle School campus involving Principal, Mark Neal,” says an email message the school district sent to parents and staff Monday afternoon. “Mr. Neal is now on paid administrative leave pending a full, thorough, and fair investigation of the situation.”

While the video does not indicate that the volatile discussion inside an office ever got physical, the confrontation has caused a stir in the community. Some people commenting on a Nextdoor post that included the video called for Neal to be fired.

But dozens of teachers and staff from Wells gathered Tuesday morning in front of the school to express support for Neal, who they say has been a unifying presence since taking the helm last year.

The video, which appears to have been recorded surreptitiously by the high school student during the meeting, drew many comments on Nextdoor.

Some commenters faulted Neal for losing his cool, others blamed the student and his mother for being rude toward Neal. A few said all three displayed poor judgement during the meeting. “They all handled their anger poorly,” one person wrote.

Neal can be heard early in the video admonishing the student for being on or near the Wells campus on Friday.

“I just need you to understand, dude, you were not correct in what you did on Friday. I don’t care what you think, but you were not correct, dude. And I need you to not be around here after school. Not because of you. I don’t like high school kids here after school,” Neal said.

A district spokesman said Wells is a closed campus, although some visitors such as classroom volunteers are allowed after fist checking in at the school office.

When the student starts speaking after being admonished, Neal interrupts him and both begin raising their voices to each other in the video. It appears Neal stands up to face the student while telling him to “kick rocks right now,” and the student says “what are you going to do?”

“This is my site. … I run this,” Neal says.

The student’s mother then says “You don’t do that to people. What are you doing?… He’s a child.”

“This man just puffed up to me. I got it all on video,” the student says, as the camera suddenly shows Neal talking to the parent.

Most of the nearly two-minute video showed only the floor and the underside of a table until the loud exchanges near the end of the footage.

Dublin police said a school resource officer was sent to Wells Middle School on Friday, Sept. 17, around 3:15 p.m., after receiving a report of a “high school aged” person “causing a disturbance on a bicycle in that area.”

Police said the person “was contacted by our SRO and dispersed from the area.”

Chip Dehnert, the spokesperson for the Dublin Unified School District, said Tuesday that “to the best of my knowledge,” the high school student in the video with Neal was the same student who was contacted by Dublin police at the Wells campus on Friday.

Dehnert said the district can’t share many details at this time because there is an active fact finding investigation.

“We certainly understand the desire for more information, we get that a lot, but until we understand everything that has happened, we’re not in a position to share information, and it’s a human resources situation,” Dehnert said.

“There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle and we are trying to put them all together,” Dehnert added.

Neal said in a text message to this news organization Tuesday he could not comment during the ongoing investigation.

Robbie Kreitz, a special education teacher at Wells, said she and her colleagues learned Monday about Neal being put on leave. On Tuesday, they were talking to parents and handing out flyers with short messages expressing gratitude for Neal’s work.

“We truly, truly, truly value our principal and what he has done for us as a school,” she said.

“This is a career educator, this is someone who puts kids first. And he came to us during the pandemic. He was able to create unity when all our interactions were on Zoom,” she said.

“There’s so much misinformation circulating,” she said.

Chris Funk, the superintendent of Dublin Unified, said Tuesday he couldn’t comment on what led to Neal being put on leave.

“Up to this point, Mr. Neal has been highly respected by his staff, his community and his peers,” Funk said.

“We have high expectations for professionalism for all staff up and down the ranks, and I expect that to be on display at all times. And I also expect staff to work to de-escalate situations that are leading to conflict,” Funk said.

“In this situation, there’s a video that’s gone viral, and people are already taking sides,” Funk said.

“I just ask that people remain calm and allow us to complete our investigation and allow due process to take place,” he said.

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Author: Joseph Geha