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Woodland Hills principal calls for unity in letter to parents

Ben Schmitt
| Friday, May 5, 2017, 2:51 p.m.
Kevin Murray, as seen Dec. 6, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Kevin Murray, as seen Dec. 6, 2016.
Pittsburgh attorney Todd Hollis released a video to the media from March 3, 2015, that shows an incident inside Woodland Hills High School student involving a then-14-year-old student and Churchill Police Officer Steve Shaulis and Principal Kevin Murray.
Pittsburgh attorney Todd Hollis released a video to the media from March 3, 2015, that shows an incident inside Woodland Hills High School student involving a then-14-year-old student and Churchill Police Officer Steve Shaulis and Principal Kevin Murray.
Pittsburgh attorney Todd Hollis and three former Woodland Hills High School students pose for a photo moments before taping a segment for ABC's 'Good Morning America.'  The teens were involved in alleged verbal or physical altercations with school officials. (Congributed photo)
Pittsburgh attorney Todd Hollis and three former Woodland Hills High School students pose for a photo moments before taping a segment for ABC's 'Good Morning America.' The teens were involved in alleged verbal or physical altercations with school officials. (Congributed photo)

The principal of Woodland Hills High School sent a letter to parents this week saying the community is splintered and needs to come together in the midst of controversies involving altercations between white school officials and black students.

"The emotional climate of Woodland Hills is not ideal right now, and I am not sure that it ever has been," Principal Kevin Murray wrote. "It feels like we are becoming more and more broken as time passes, becoming a community where it's easier to pick apart our differences rather than to celebrate them."

Murray, who became embroiled in controversy this school year over an audio recording of him threatening a student, called for an end to finger-pointing.

"We have to work together through our differences, our stereotypes, and our prejudices to continuously build up this community that allows itself to be torn down all too often," he wrote.

Several parents contacted the Tribune-Review on Friday after receiving copies of the letter in the mail.

Earlier this week, Pittsburgh attorney Todd Hollis went public with videos from school surveillance cameras that showed the arrests of two black students, ages 14 and 15, by a white Churchill police officer assigned to the school.

In a video from April 3, Churchill officer Steve Shaulis can be seen dragging Que'chawn Wade, 14, into the school's main office lobby before fighting with him off camera and knocking out one of the teen's teeth, Hollis said. Wade faces a resisting arrest charge in juvenile court.

Video from a March 2015 incident shows Shaulis putting Ahmad Williams Jr., then 15, in a headlock, slamming him to the ground and shocking him twice with a Taser. Murray helped hold the teen down during the arrest for disorderly conduct. A judge acquitted Williams of resisting arrest after the tape was played at trial.

Administrators placed Murray on leave Nov. 30 after an audio tape of him threatening a special-education student surfaced. Murray did not report to the school for about six weeks while the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office investigated. In a letter to school officials, District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. called Murray's actions "inappropriate and arguably threatening," but he did not recommend criminal charges against Murray.

Hollis declined to comment on the letter Friday.

Murray did not directly acknowledge responsibility for any of the past incidents in his letter, which was signed by Murray and other school staffers.

"We need to take a look in the mirror and ask ourselves, 'Where did WE go wrong?', 'What can WE do better?' and 'How can WE be the best versions of ourselves for OUR children?'" the letter said.

Murray asked parents to travel back 30 years to when the Woodland Hills School District was formed under controversial circumstances. Woodland Hills is the product of a court-ordered merger of a large, predominantly black district with four predominantly white ones in the eastern suburbs in 1981. Today's district includes 12 communities.

"We may have gone wrong from time to time, but we have gotten it right so many more times than credit is given," he wrote. "I and the staff of Woodland Hills Junior/Senior High School believe that WE can continue to do better and that WE can be the best versions of ourselves for OUR children. Won't you join us?"

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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