Woodland Hills principal to be reinstated
Woodland Hills High School Principal Kevin Murray, on leave since a controversial recording surfaced of a verbal tirade involving a special-education student, will return to school, the district superintendent told the Tribune-Review on Thursday.
Murray has been disciplined and will return at an undisclosed date, Superintendent Alan Johnson said.
“I'm still deeply disappointed in the principal, and he knows that,” Johnson said. “And he is disappointed in himself. He will be returning, and we believe this was an anomaly. This was not representative of who he is and things he has done at Woodland Hills.”
Earlier this week, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s office revealed that its investigation into Murray was complete and no charges would be filed.
In a letter to Johnson, Zappala said the April 8 secret recording of Murray taken by the 14-year-old student in question could not be used in criminal proceedings. However, he described Murray's actions as “inappropriate and arguably threatening.”
Johnson said he took Zappala's words to heart.
“The District Attorney's office did a very thorough job, and we thank them for that,” Johnson said.
It's illegal in Pennsylvania to record someone without permission unless there is not an expectation of privacy.
In the recordings, which were captured in April and released in late November, Murray can be heard telling the student, “I'll punch you right in your face, dude,” and “I'll knock your (expletive) teeth down your throat.”
In another portion of the recording, Murray tells the teen he would prevail in court.
“When we go down to court, it's your word versus mine,” Murray said in the recording. “And mine wins every time.”
The incident in question stemmed from a disciplinary meeting after the student called an administrator a derogatory name, according to the teen's attorney, Todd Hollis.
The teen captured the recording on his cellular phone, Hollis said.
Murray's attorney, Phillip DiLucente, said a return date has not been scheduled.
“Whatever the administration's recommendations offer him, he is ready, willing and capable of completing whatever they would suggest — whether it's sensitivity training or anything else,” DiLucente said. “We are pleased and relieved that the administration is permitting Principal Murray to work at the high school so he can continue on in trying to help children and try to bring out the best in each and every one of them.”
Hollis said he is “very disappointed” in Johnson's decision.
Hollis filed a petition in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court asking a judge to review Zappala's decision not to prosecute.
Hollis has maintained the recording was made in a school hallway and was not private. After the recording went public, Hollis filed a private complaint with Zappala's office on Nov. 30 that Hollis said was not accepted.
In the petition for review, Hollis contended that “the District Attorney's Office has colluded with the school district to (the student's) exclusion by ignoring obvious and available facts and details that support a conviction for Mr. Murray for terroristic threats, harassment, disorderly conduct and other applicable charges.”
Hollis wrote in his petition that Zappala “has charged numerous other groups, students and non-public figures for similar conduct.”
Hollis wrote that the incident stems from a disagreement with a school administrator in which the student was overheard saying, “She's acting like a bitch.”
A hearing on Hollis' petition for review is scheduled for Feb. 9 in front of Common Pleas President Judge Jeffrey Manning.
DiLucente said he will attend the hearing.
“I believe it's separation of power issue that I am sure the president judge will rule upon,” he said.
The district put Murray, who is also an assistant football coach, on administrative leave Nov. 30.
Johnson said it was his decision to reinstate Murray and the school board has been made aware of the decision. He said he would not disclose the disciplinary procedure, calling the matter a personnel issue.
“He was disciplined,” Johnson said. “I can guarantee you that he is remorseful, and he may be speaking about that.”
Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or firstname.lastname@example.org.