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Friday, Sep 29, 2023

MUHS Principal resigns after investigation of allegedly fabricated interviews

A recent scandal shakes up the Middlebury Union High School community.
A recent scandal shakes up the Middlebury Union High School community.

Middlebury Union High School Principal Justin Campbell sent a brief letter to the school community on Jan. 23 announcing his resignation from the job. “After much contemplation, many conversations with family and some deep introspection, I have decided to resign my position,” Campbell’s letter said. “It has been a deep honor to be part of the MUHS community and I will cherish the memories I’ve made.” 

While Campbell’s resignation came as a shock to many people in the high school community, two former coaches at the school, Jill and Pat Dunn, were not surprised. According to reporting from Seven Days, two hours before Campbell’s announcement, Jill Dunn received an email from the school district’s lawyer, Pietro Lynn. Jill had alleged in December 2022 that Campbell fabricated interviews in his investigation of a post-prom party held at the Dunns’ house. Lynn’s email reported that the district’s investigation into Campbell’s conduct found that her claims were substantiated.

The beginnings of the post-prom party investigation that led to Campbell’s resignation date back to the summer of 2021. According to Jill, however, the seeds for this conflict were planted years earlier, when she and her husband first became employees of the school district as high school coaches. 

As parents of children who went through the Addison Central School District, Jill was hired as the girls’ varsity tennis coach in 2017 and Pat as the assistant varsity basketball coach in 2019. 

Jill told The Campus that, shortly after being hired as a coach, she began having conflicts with the district Athletic Director, Sean Farrell. One such incident in the spring of 2019 involved Jill finding out the boys’ and girls’ tennis coaches were paid what she described as comparable to the salaries of middle school coaches, rather than the standard salary for high school coaches in the district. 

According to an application Jill later filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Farrell raised the tennis coaches’ salaries from $2,659 to $4,343 after she and the boys’ tennis coach met with Farrell over the pay discrepancy. Jill’s application also alleged that female coaches of other sports at the school, such as downhill skiing, volleyball and field hockey had been “dismissed, ignored, lied, [and] intimidated” by Farrell. 

Over the next year, Jill said she had additional disagreements with Farrell about discrepancies over profits from a school bake sale and when he denied her requests to join an athletic leadership group at the school. These interactions are also laid out in Jill’s June 2022 EEOC complaint, in which she charged that she had been subject to sexism and employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Farrell declined to comment specifically on his relationship with Jill and Pat Dunn, stating that the school district’s press statement on the matter speaks for him. The district’s statement does not refer directly to Jill’s allegations against Farrell; it instead discusses the prom party incident, which led to both Jill and Pat Dunn’s firing and Principal Campbell’s resignation. 

In late August 2021, Campbell reached out to the Dunns, asking to meet about a post-prom party the couple hosted for their son and his friends in June of that year. “A few community members have informed me that, according to them, you hosted an underage party where drinking occurred,” Campbell wrote in his email, which Jill shared with The Campus. 

The Dunns met with Campbell shortly after the email correspondence and described their version of the party to him — grilling food, playing ping pong and using the backyard pool. The couple said they never provided party attendees with alcoholic beverages or witnessed alcohol being consumed. Jill told him it was possible that the kids had been drinking at the party or earlier at the prom, but neither she nor her husband served them alcohol. 

Following this meeting in early September, Jill said she did not hear anything further from Campbell until she came to speak with him in November on a different matter — a complaint related to Farrell and the athletic leadership group from which she had been denied entry. In another email from Campbell which Jill shared with The Campus where the two corresponded about a meeting time, Campbell wrote, “you will also recall that we met in September to discuss the prom gathering you hosted last spring. I would like to fill you in on my findings.” 

Pat accompanied his wife to this November meeting with Campbell. It was there that Campbell told the couple they were both being fired from their coaching positions at the school, citing interviews with three students who attended their party and claiming that the Dunns were aware of underage drinking taking place at the event. 

“We left there blindsided,” Jill told The Campus. 

At the time of the November meeting with Campbell, Jill said, she began suspecting other motives for her and her husband’s firing — specifically something related to her previous run-ins with Farrell. Following up on these suspicions, she asked to see the district’s investigatory notes into the party and described her concerns to Superintendent Peter Burrows. 

When nothing came of her request to get more information about the district’s investigation, Jill filed the formal complaint to the EEOC for sex-based employment discrimination and what she considered to be the absence of due process when she and her husband were fired. The EEOC dismissed Jill’s application four months later in October 2022, writing in its response, “evidence shows you were dismissed because you hosted a party where minors consumed alcohol in your present [sic], but you did nothing to stop it.” 

Despite the EEOC closing its investigation, Jill found on the commission’s online portal documents the district’s lawyer provided with summaries of the interviews Campbell conducted with party attendees. Jill then had her son ask the interviewees about the statements they gave Campbell describing alcohol consumption at the Dunns’ party. According to Jill, all three students told Jill’s son they were never interviewed about the matter by Campbell. 

In response to these findings, Jill hired a private investigator to get statements from the three students about the district investigation. Two of the students told the private investigator they never met with Campbell to discuss the party; the third described meeting with Campbell briefly about an unrelated topic, according to the private investigator’s report. 

Farrell disputed the private investigator’s claim that none of the students sat down with him or Campbell to talk about the post-prom party. “[I] did approach [the student] asking if she would be willing to meet with me and Mr. Campbell to discuss her experience at the party and she agreed. Mr. Campbell was in my office during the entire interview process,” Farrell wrote to The Campus. 

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Jill reached out to Burrows with the private investigator’s findings, and he responded that the district “consider[s] the matter concluded.” Two more emails by Jill to the school board in early January 2023 led to the district looking into her allegations. Nine days after Jill’s second email to the board, the district told Jill and Pat that their allegations about the fabricated interviews had been affirmed. Campbell resigned that same day. 

“The School Board and the Superintendent were alarmed by the findings of the private investigator,” the district wrote in their press statement. “Once it was determined that the investigation into the Dunn student party was improper, the Board directed that both investigations, the one into allegations raised by Ms. Dunn regarding discrimination and unprofessional conduct and the one having to do with the party, be reopened and that the matters should be investigated again.” 

Lynn, the district’s attorney, told Seven Days that once Dunn’s allegations were substantiated, Burrows and the board were “prepared to take appropriate disciplinary action,” but Campbell resigned before that could happen. 

Despite the focus on Campbell’s resignation and role in the post-prom party situation, Jill said she believes the blame is being placed on the wrong person — “we firmly believe that Farrell made him [Campbell] the face of this,” she said. Jill does not have any concrete evidence of Farrell’s role in the situation but said she has these suspicions because of her previous altercations with Farrell and the fact that the tip about the party came from what Campbell called an “anonymous source” multiple months after the party actually took place.  

Campbell became the principal of Middlebury Union High School in the fall of 2020 after spending roughly eight years as the principal at Hanover High School in New Hampshire. 

According to Ben Wagner ’25, who attended Hanover High School while Campbell was principal, Campbell was well-liked by the school community in Hanover. “I never really interacted with him beyond his by-name greeting as he held open the door every morning, but he seemed pretty nice and reasonable. When I saw him at the [Middlebury] Snowbowl over the winter, he still remembered who I was and gave me a big ‘ol handshake,” Wagner wrote in a text to The Campus. 

Farrell declined to comment further on Jill’s allegations of his connection to the post-prom party situation. 

In late January, following Campbell’s resignation, the district reopened its investigation into the party and Jill’s allegations of discrimination and unprofessional conduct against Farrell. The Dunns did not participate in the investigation, however, as Jill said they have been unhappy with how the district has handled this whole situation.

The district concluded again in the second investigation that the Dunns were aware of drinking at the party. The second investigation did not include any of the evidence of fabricated interviews from the private investigator, as the Dunns did not participate in the investigation. The investigation did not substantiate the couples’ claims of discrimination, so the firings from their coaching positions stood. 

The district wrote in the press statement that they cannot share what, if any, personnel actions were taken due to the improper investigation. Burrows and the district did confirm to The Addison Independent, however, that they did not make any decisions based on fear of litigation, nor have they paid any money to the Dunns. 

“The Board, the Superintendent and the District are committed to honesty and integrity, enforcement of the District’s policies and transparency, where possible,” the press statement said. “We are confident that we have fulfilled that commitment in connection with the Dunn matters.”

Superintendent Burrows will also depart from the district at the end of the school year to pursue a job as the superintendent of the Milton, Mass. public schools. Former Assistant Superintendent Caitlin Steele was named the new Middlebury Union High School principal in late March.

Maggie Reynolds

Maggie Reynolds '24 (she/her) is the Editor in Chief.  

Maggie previously served as the Senior Local Editor, a Local Section Editor, and a Staff Writer. She spent this past J-term interning for VTDigger, covering topics from affordable housing in Addison County to town government scandals. She also interned for Seven Days VT as an arts & culture reporter summer 2022 and as a news reporter for the Daily Gazette in Schenectady, NY summer 2021.   

Maggie is majoring in History and minoring in Political Science and Spanish. She was a three-year member of the Women's Swimming and Diving team. Maggie enjoys running, hiking, and iced maple lattes.