NEWBERG, Ore. (KOIN) — The Newberg School District announced its new superintendent this week, but court documents show he still has some unfinished business in his last position.
On Tuesday, Steve Phillips was named superintendent for the district after a month-long search following the firing of superintendent Joe Morelock in November. The school district has been under fire since the board introduced a ban on Pride and “Black Lives Matter” flags, which later turned into a ban on political or controversial symbols.
Phillips resigned as deputy superintendent of Beaverton schools back in 2018 after making controversial tweets about immigrants.
However, according to KOIN 6 News partner The Newberg Graphic, Phillips was placed on paid administrative leave by the 175-student Jewell school board in March and is under investigation there for undisclosed reasons. Phillips was also named in a legal case involving the district.
A petition of writ was filed by former Jewell basketball coach Dave Samuelson in Clatsop County Circuit Court in January 2020 against the Jewell School District, Phillips and the school board after Samuelson was fired by Phillips from his coaching job after a sexual harassment claim by an assistant coach and family friend.
KOIN 6 News obtained the court documents for more information.
“Jewell is a small community and the proceedings and sanctions against plaintiff conducted in a public forum, and even if limited to the more private process of written letter from the superintendent prior to review before the school board, causes the plaintiff substantial embarrassment and harm in the community in which he has lived his entire life,” said the writ.
The document goes on to say that the defendant “improperly” construed applicable law because it took a mutually consensual relationship between adults, taking place separate and apart from activities relevant to the defendant, ignored its own definition of sexual harassment in its policy and employment manuals, and violated its own policies and applicable law by taking hostile action against the plaintiff, who had been acting in part as a whistleblower.
According to the writ, Samuelson also has custody of a grandson who attends Jewell School, which “the complications that arise from defendant’s actions, while not eviscerating plaintiff’s responsibilities, complicate them.”
Samuelson said in the document that he enjoyed coaching basketball at Jewell School, and the actions of the defendants “functionally” deprive the plaintiff of that opportunity.
Samuelson requested that the court direct the defendants to reverse their finding that he engaged in sexual harassment during his term as a coach and remove all sanctions against him, added the Newberg Graphic. Phillips, the school district and the school board asked that the court dismiss the writ “in its entirety and with prejudice,” and award them legal costs and whatever relief the court deems adequate, according to KOIN 6’s news partner.
The Newberg Graphic reported the school district provided a formal answer saying it denied employing sanctions against Samuelson and went on to deny the majority of the allegations against it.
The court declined to dismiss the writ and at an April 12 hearing set the matter to go to trial in September.
KOIN 6 News reached out to the Newberg School District for comment. A spokesperson referred to a statement the district made on Tuesday regarding Phillips’ hiring.
“The Board selected Dr. Phillips after three rounds of interviews with candidates, a day of meeting with staff, students, and community here in Newberg, a site visit, and reference checks,” said a statement by the Newberg School District. “Dr. Phillips served most recently as superintendent of Jewell School District in Seaside, Oregon. An educator for 24 years, many of those as an administrator, Dr. Phillips previously served as the deputy superintendent for teaching and learning, human resources, and technology for the Beaverton School District and the superintendent of Malheur Education Service District in Vale, Oregon.”
Phillips will start in the role as soon as possible after working out contract details with the district.
KOIN 6 also reached out to the Jewell School District for comment regarding the writ and trial set for this fall but did not hear back by deadline.