By John L. Braese
NYSSA – The Nyssa School District paid $50,000 to former high school principal Shawn Jensen to get his resignation last month after school officials concluded he had sexually harassed a district employee for a year, according to district records.
Jensen was placed on administrative leave Nov. 11 after an employee came forward with allegations of unwelcome sexual advances, both physical and verbal, by Jensen.
A district investigation concluded the allegations were true and recommended his termination. Jensen contested the allegations but his attorney told officials that “some form of directive or discipline may be appropriate.”
After subsequent negotiations, Jensen agreed to resign.
On Monday, Jensen maintained to the Malheur Enterprise he had not harassed the employee.
“My relationship with her was purely professional,” said Jensen. “We did not have any contact outside the work place. The allegations of sexual harassment were purely one sided. I wish this whole thing would have been handled differently.”
Superintendent Jana Iverson said the $50,000 paid to Jensen by the district was to bring the matter to a close.
“I felt that legal fees and time spent defending a lawsuit would have cost more than what was just the dollars paid because of its impact on the ability of the district to move forward,” said Iverson. “The money came from salary of what he would have been paid. Money was not taken from any other sources of funding to pay Mr. Jensen.”
Jensen was replaced in November with Ryan Swearingen, the school’s assistant principal. Last week, Swearingen resigned his position effective June, stating he wished to explore other opportunities in Oregon.
Details of the Jensen investigation and settlement are contained in documents obtained by the Enterprise through a records request made under the Oregon Public Records Law. The settlement agreement dated Jan. 4 between Jensen and the district said records of the matter “will be maintained in confidence” unless disclosure was required by law.
Document: District letter to Shawn Jensen: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3460732-Nyssa-SD-Letter-Jensen.html
Document: Separation agreement: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3460731-Nyssa-Separation-Agreement.html
Jensen worked in the Nyssa district for more than 25 years, the last three as principal of the high school. He previously served as principal at Nyssa Elementary School.
In a Dec. 15 letter to Jensen, the superintendent said she was recommending to the board that he be terminated.
“You have sexually harassed a district employee and took no action to investigate or address sexual harassment complaints brought to your attention,” she wrote.
She said in the letter that the harassment of one employee “has been consistent and long term (over a year).” She continued, “You understood the illegality and inappropriateness of your behaviors but continued them anyway.”
The district records identify the victim, but the Enterprise doesn’t report the names of victims of sexual harassment.
According to the district records, Jensen was accused of commenting about the victim’s breast and when confronted by the victim, made the statement, “I have boundary issues.” The records also state Jensen used inappropriate innuendo, asked the victim for pictures of herself and hit the victim’s rear with a lanyard attached to his keys. The victim also alleged Jensen sent text messages to her about his wish to sleep with a referee seen at a high school sporting event.
She told investigators that on occasion Jensen would massage her shoulders during school hours.
The victim, in the complaint, said she spoke to Jensen about a situation with another staff member.
According to the district’s report, Jensen replied to the victim, “I’m disappointed in you. There is not a day I don’t think about sleeping with you but I couldn’t do that to my family.”
Attorney Nathan Rietmann of Salem, in a letter to the district on Jensen’s behalf dated Nov. 30, addressed each allegation in the report, denying most.
Rietmann wrote that Jensen on one occasion wasn’t commenting on the victim’s breast. Instead, he said, the principal was pointing out a stain on her shirt and pointing this out was “not unusual or inappropriate behavior.”
Regarding hitting the victim with his lanyard, the attorney said that Jensen frequently twirled the lanyard, but denied hitting the victim.
With the issue of massaging the victim in the office, the attorney said that Jensen admitted the act, but said the act was an attempt to calm her down and not sexual.
Regarding text messages about the sports official, Rietmann said Jensen deleted the texts and that the victim initiated the conversation.
“Mr. Jensen acknowledges this type of overly casual humor is not appropriate for workplace communication” and that “the humor was in poor taste,” the attorney wrote.
The attorney said another remark attributed to Jensen also was “humor in poor taste for a professional setting” and on another occasion text messages were “inappropriate.”
The investigation found the victim didn’t initiate the series of texts.
School authorities initiated their investigation last fall and obtained as evidence text messages on Jensen’s phone. One district manager and one person outside the district, both experienced, conducted the investigation.
Investigators reported their findings to the superintendent on Nov. 18, concluding “there was a clear violation involving sexual harassment between the victim and Shawn Jensen during the 2015/2016 school year.” This included “physical touching, written materials and obscene jokes.”
The report also found Jensen failed to “properly investigate, report and reduce to writing” a previous complaint by the victim regarding sexual harassment by another teacher.
In Monday’s interview, Jensen said he accepted the settlement because “I was just done fighting.”
Jensen said that although he disputes the allegations, his attorney fees and the possibility of ending with nothing swayed his decision to accept the $50,000.
“With the settlement, I walked away with something,” he said. “There was a chance in court I would walk away with nothing.”
Jensen said his responses to the allegations fell on “deaf ears” and that “I feel like I was forced to resign.”
Jensen said his future is uncertain. With three children still in school, the settlement amount won’t support his family.
“We are looking at selling the house and moving on,” he said. “It is hard. I have great memories and great friends in Nyssa. This whole thing has been like dealing with a loss in the family.”
The district forwarded the report and findings to the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, which licenses educators. As of last week, Jensen’s credentials remained in place.
Under the settlement agreement, no party is making “an admission of wrongdoing or inadequate performance.”
That agreement requires the school district to remain silent if Jensen pursues unemployment benefits and that the superintendent “shall furnish a signed letter of recommendation to Mr. Jensen, which may be used in Mr. Jensen’s application for employment.”