By Chris Collins
A teacher at the Pine-Eagle Charter School in Halfway has been disciplined by the state teacher licensing agency for using poor judgment in his interaction with students.
During its quarterly meeting in Salem on March 7, the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission agreed to impose a public reprimand on the teaching license of Christopher Howard de Castro, 38, who teaches fifth- and sixth-graders at the Halfway school.
He also will be placed on two years' probation with the requirement that he comply with the state's Standards for Competent and Ethical Performance of Oregon Educators. Should he violate those requirements, the commission could revoke his teaching license, revoke his right to apply for a license or take other disciplinary action.
Public record of the commission's action stated that de Castro's behavior with students "constitutes gross neglect of duty" in violation of Oregon law, which requires educators to "recognize the worth and dignity of all persons and respect for each individual," "use professional judgment," and to honor "appropriate adult boundaries with students in conduct and conversations at all times."
The final order authorizing the disciplinary action was signed Monday by Victoria Chamberlain, TSPC executive director.
During the commission's investigation, de Castro was found to have "used poor judgment in making inappropriate comments to and around students," according to stipulated facts agreed to by de Castro.
"Students complained that at times, de Castro used inappropriate language, unsuitable references, and engaged in discussions that were demeaning and made the students feel uncomfortable," the document stated.
de Castro signed the agreement stipulating those facts on Jan. 1, 2014. Chamberlain signed the document Jan. 29.
Complaints against de Castro were received from the Pine-Eagle School District and several parents between April 2012 and March 2013, the record stated.
Tom and Melody Huff were among the parents who complained about de Castro's interaction with students, including their son.
Melody is a former school employee who worked in food services.
The Huffs hired an attorney because of problems they had with de Castro. They also sought help from a union representative to resolve conflicts with other school employees who sided with de Castro against Melody.
Cammie de Castro, who grew up at Halfway and is a 1997 Pine-Eagle High School graduate, is Chris' wife and the principal at Pine-Eagle Charter School. She was not involved in the investigation or the complaint process.
The de Castros' relationship, however, made parents and staff reluctant to complain about Chris de Castro's behavior, Melody Huff said.
The complaints were handled by Superintendent Mike Corley and the Pine-Eagle School Board. Bob Seal, board chair, declined to comment on board action or the TSPC ruling regarding Chris de Castro.
"I'd just as soon not talk about that outside an executive (closed) meeting," Seal said in a telephone interview Thursday.
Corley also declined comment because of the confidentiality of personnel records.
He said Wednesday that he had not heard of the TSPC ruling and that while he was aware of the investigation, he was not involved in it.
"It's a good thing we have that available to parents," Corley said of the TSPC avenue for filing complaints. "The state works diligently to make sure our educators are the best we can have."
The Huffs were not satisfied the response they received from Corley and the school board. And they expressed disappointment Wednesday when they learned of the TSPC's reprimand of Chris de Castro and his two-year probationary term.
"I think he should lose his license," Melody Huff said.
On the other hand, Chris de Castro said he believes he was misunderstood as a newcomer to the community when he and his wife moved to Halfway to start their new jobs in 2009.
He said the disciplinary action was the result of what he termed unfair - and in some cases, false - accusations that were misconstrued by investigators.
He declined to talk about specific allegations.
"I felt like people maybe didn't know me as a person as well as they might have if they had tried to," he said. "They jumped to negative conclusions and took them to extremes."
That has changed as he has become more ingrained in the community and developed better relationships, he said.
de Castro said he also was disciplined by the district as a result of the complaints. He was placed on a few days of paid leave when the main complaint was made to allow the superintendent and board to investigate the allegations. He next was placed on a one-year plan of assistance.
"It turned out to be really a blessing in disguise," de Castro said. "I felt like I grew as a teacher and solidified my love for the kids and for teaching."
More information about the TSPC action is available by computer by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.