Cleveland High’s former principal resigns, reaches settlement with Seattle Schools

Cleveland High School’s former principal, who says she was disciplined for alerting families of changes to COVID protocols, has resigned and reached a six-figure settlement with Seattle Public Schools.

Catherine Brown, who has worked in the district for 26 years, will receive a $205,056 settlement in exchange for not seeking damages or raising discrimination and retaliation claims against SPS, according to the settlement agreement.

She will also receive $19,380 in vacation pay, and her 368 hours of sick leave will be restored. Brown is eligible to cash out her sick leave after retiring or if she works for another school district, said Shannon McMinimee, Brown’s attorney.

In Seattle, principals make an average of $142,000 annually including bonuses and other pay, according to Glassdoor

Brown worked at Cleveland High for 18 years. Before reaching a settlement, she was facing a demotion, school reassignment and a suspension. Brown signed the settlement on July 22, and Superintendent Brent Jones signed it on July 25. 

During the last school year, Brown informed families the district was scaling back contact tracing even though district officials told her not to say anything about the changes. After a district investigation, officials decided to end her principal contract in June.

Through her attorney, Brown declined an interview, saying she still felt too emotional about the situation to talk about it. But in a statement, she said she wouldn’t have been able to face the Cleveland community without telling families they would no longer be notified if they were in close contact with someone who tested positive. 

“ … I continued to think about Cleveland families, 90% of whom are people of color, including many Black, Indigenous, and Latinx families who already contend with poor outcomes for COVID-19 (and health care in general) due to structural racism,” Brown’s statement said. “I thought of the 50% of our families who speak languages other than English, and the painstaking care we had taken to communicate critical health information to all our families throughout the year.”

Brown should not have been punished for telling the truth, McMinimee said in a phone interview.

“This experience was so bizarre and so terrible for Catherine, the Cleveland community, and other people who got sucked into this.” That list includes Marni Campbell, McMinimee said; the principal of Robert Eagle Staff Middle School, Campbell was told she would become Cleveland’s next principal after Brown was demoted.

The announcement that Campbell would be the new principal was met with outcries from students, parents, educators and community members. Campbell later declined the principal position. Her critics were concerned about Campbell’s role in an incident that resulted in a sexual abuse lawsuit against the district that was settled in 2015. 

Campbell was the principal at Eckstein Middle School in 2005, when a former student reported allegations of a teacher making sexual comments about her body and touching her inappropriately. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged Campbell failed to remove the student from the class and said the student needed counseling and was seeking attention. 

In May, students walked out of school to protest Jones’ decision to appoint Campbell. Later, three Cleveland educators said they resigned because of the way the district handled the situation. 

Seattle Schools officials did not respond to requests for comment on the Brown settlement. 

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