GREAT FALLS — The superintendent, an elementary school principal and a high school teacher have left their jobs at a school on an Indian reservation in northern Montana after a former student posted a threatening message on Facebook.
Superintendent Russ McKenna, principal Felicia Kleven and her husband left town before the Heart Butte school board had a chance to respond, said board chairman Grinnell Day Chief. The board voted last week not to pay out the rest of their contracts.
A student who was expelled from the school on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in November put an expletive-laced post on Facebook on March 7 that complained about white people making the rules. It said someone should get the white staffers out of the school before he got them out. McKenna said within an hour, it had 15 "likes."
Day Chief said he told McKenna to reach out to law enforcement and let him know what they said. McKenna said an FBI agent told him it was a "veiled threat" and not much could be done.
Day Chief said McKenna didn't contact him again and he learned the next day McKenna was packing a moving truck.
Day Chief said he contacted officers with Blackfeet Law Enforcement, the Pondera County sheriff's office and the FBI, and that at least two of those agencies contacted the former student who made the post.
"He apologized right there," Day Chief said. "He said he had no intention of hurting anybody. He was a little upset and put something on Facebook. It was just a thing he had done out of frustration. I don't believe there was ever a real threat."
Still, Day Chief said the school board was prepared to get the staffers temporary housing in a nearby town to give the board a few days to put some safety measures in place.
"They didn't give us that option," Day Chief said.
McKenna said: "It's the actual school environment and always has been about that. It was more than just our personal safety, it was the safety of students and staff. Our leaving was to ease the very real possibility of a violent incident."
Day Chief said the school district has hired Blackfeet Law Enforcement Services to serve as the school's resource officer for the remainder of the school year.
Heart Butte High School Principal Charles Smith had also considered leaving, but said the presence of the resource officer made him change his mind.
On Thursday, the school board voted 4-0 to accept the resignations of McKenna and the Klevens and denied a request to pay out the rest of their contracts.
McKenna said he was not informed that a previously scheduled school board meeting had been moved to Thursday.
"We had a right to be aware of what was being said with the opportunity to respond," said McKenna. He has said the staffers' letter to the school board didn't say they were resigning, but said "we were not leaving of our own volition."