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Española school board puts superintendent on leave

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The Española Public Schools Board of Education voted 3-1 Wednesday night to place Superintendent Fred Trujillo on administrative leave, as the district investigates allegations Trujillo failed to respond to reports of sexual assault while at another district.

Board members appointed Holly Martinez, district executive director of federal programs, as acting superintendent until June 3, at which point the board will decide whether to appoint an interim superintendent or reinstate Trujillo.

Trujillo will be paid while on leave.

Meanwhile, the school district’s attorneys will retain outside investigators to examine the allegations and how they may impact the district.

Board President Gilbert Serrano said board members felt it was important for the community’s confidence in the district to place Trujillo on leave.

“I think it’s best right now that he stays on leave,” Serrano said, adding the investigation could last weeks.

The board arrived at its decision two weeks after a federal lawsuit accused Trujillo of ignoring reports of employees sexually assaulting students while he was superintendent of Pecos Independent Schools.

In the past five years, three athletics coaches at Pecos have been charged with various criminal sex acts against children. Most of the incidents allegedly took place during Trujillo’s tenure as superintendent.

The district hired Trujillo in February 2020, approving a two-year contract with an annual salary of $150,000. Members recently approved a one-year extension to his contract, despite only serving half of his current agreement.

Serrano said Trujillo’s background check was a “thorough process” and that the lawsuit caught them by surprise.

“We did ask him questions about the coach,” he said. “I thought he was forthcoming … I’d say we have to take action, because the community wants some answers, and so does this board.”

Trujillo, who attended Wednesday’s meeting virtually, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Board Secretary Yolanda Salazar was the only member to vote against placing Trujillo on leave. She declined to specify her reasoning.

The federal lawsuit also names former Pecos Schools officials Ira Harge Jr. and Michael Lister – both of whom currently hold administrative positions in Española – as defendants, claiming they knew of the sexual assaults and failed to take any action.

Serrano said it would be “premature” to speak about the future of Harge and Lister in Española, and any decision would have to be made by an acting superintendent. Harge did not respond to requests for comment.

The board also created a list of expectations for Trujillo to follow while on leave, but details of the list were not shared publicly. Serrano said the public would have to send a public records request to learn those details.