CHEYENNE — Laramie County School District 1 Superintendent Dr. Margaret Crespo has resigned after two years leading the largest school district in Wyoming and amid allegations she created a hostile work environment for administrators and teachers.
Crespo’s resignation was accepted after a short executive session during a special Friday afternoon meeting of the LCSD1 Board of Education. A public comment period following the announcement quickly turned emotional, but not unruly.
Crespo was not in attendance at the meeting and no statement was read on her behalf. Her chair, designated by her nameplate, sat empty at the end of the row of board members.
The public reaction was mixed, with some supporting the board and glad for Crespo’s resignation, and others who defended the district’s top administrator.
Crespo’s resignation comes on the heels of an official complaint made by a former junior high school principal in the district who accused Crespo and members of her leadership team of harassment, unprofessional behavior and fostering a hostile work environment.
Brian Cox said he was involuntarily removed from his position as principal of Johnson Junior High School in May before the end of the past school year, despite already having handed in his resignation for the end of the school year many months prior. He said he was given no exit interview.
In late June, Cox submitted the nine-page complaint to the LCSD1 board detailing his problems with Crespo and her team.
In his letter, Cox says Crespo didn’t listen to the needs of staff and facilitated a culture that lacked communication and human connection but encouraged intimidation.
He also claimed his former supervisor, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Jim Fraley, threatened to fight him, slapped a table violently and threatened his employment over their disagreement on curriculum.
Cox and his wife, also a teacher in the district, were allegedly targeted by administration for having certain contrary opinions on educational matters such as “widening the gap for poor and traditionally marginalized groups of students,” espoused by Fraley, he wrote.
Cox told Cowboy State Daily on Friday he was motivated to write the letter by a board member in order to support an independent investigation into Crespo’s leadership. He doesn’t believe his letter was the sole reason for Crespo’s resignation.
Limits On Responses
During Friday’s meeting, LCSD1 Board Chairman Tim Bolin cited restrictions on discussing personnel issues and that anyone at the meeting “can’t talk about the investigation,” drawing some outbursts from people attending.
Cox, who was not at the meeting, said he hopes the board can choose a new superintendent that wasn’t named in his letter and will support all district employees.
“My hope is the board will place someone in a role not currently named in the letter who will create a system where employees don’t feel not valued,” he said. “I’m hoping the board keeps a close eye on the climate and culture of the school instructors.”
The board started the meeting immediately adjourning into an executive session “for the purpose of discussing personnel,” on a motion from board member Alicia Smith.
One of the central figures in Cox’s allegations was Crespo, who became superintendent in July 2021.
Crespo quickly fell out of favor with many of the more conservative parents and members of the Cheyenne community for continuing to enforce COVID-19 mask requirements in the district’s schools.
Ten people were allowed to speak after Crespo’s resignation was announced, mostly split along lines supporting and condemning the board.
None of the board members made any comments about Crespo’s resignation, describing it as a confidential personnel matter. A few LCSD1 staff members Cowboy State Daily approached after the meeting also declined to comment.
Carla Gregoria, a former principal in the school district, criticized an investigation into Crespo even though she resigned, drawing a connection between this act and Crespo’s status as a woman of color. On July 17, Crespo was given an Equity Warrior Award by the Voice for Equity organization, she said.
“We as a community have been really appreciative of her efforts and I do not like what happened,” Gregoria said.
Various board members chastised Gregoria and others for directly referencing Crespo, drawing angry retorts from some in the audience who felt not being allowed to reference Crespo directly or indirectly during a meeting solely to address her resignation infringed on their free speech rights.
The confidential aspect of Crespo’s resignation led the board to demand all public speakers refrain from not only identifying Crespo by name, but also by position, gender and even in vague terms like “the individual.”
Gregoria would not relent and said the guise of “hostile work environment” has been used by the school district to unfairly oust leaders before.
“I want you to know we’re part of that work environment,” she said. “I want to say what she has done for this work environment. It’s not just the school administrators.”
The microphone she was talking into was turned off shortly after.
Dan Marcum, a 38-year teacher and staff member at Cheyenne South High School, said the decision-making process at LCSD1 is destroying children and their best interests.
“The decisions that the person (Crespo) made didn’t happen in the last two years,” he said.
Marcum’s comments drew an affirming head nod from Smith, one of the most conservative members of the board. Smith’s husband Darin Smith ran for Congress in 2016 against future Rep. Liz Cheney and again in 2022 in an attempt to unseat Cheney. He was in attendance at Friday’s meeting.
‘Whenever Are We Ever Going To Learn’
Stephen Latham, president of the Cheyenne branch of the NAACP, commended the board’s efforts, but questioned its management relating to Crespo.
Latham drew a comparison to the Black 14, a reference to 14 Black student-athletes from the 1969 University of Wyoming football players who were kicked off the team for requesting to participate in a peaceful protest planned by the Black Students' Alliance.
“Whenever are we ever going to learn … sometimes we need to think a little more before we make the decisions that we do and give the people maybe more information than we’re getting ,” he said.
State Rep. Tamara Trujillo, R-Cheyenne, thanked the board and said fiscal decision-making was a possible reason for Crespo’s resignation rather than race
Lorraine Wilcox said she and her minor child were mistreated by Crespo “for nothing more than her standing up for herself,” and that the former superintendent picked and chose who she would stand up for.
Wilcox said those who support Crespo and people like her “will only awake more lions” and that “a day of judgment is near.”
One speaker who identified herself as “Marie Marie” recommended establishing a parent advisory board to select the district’s next permanent superintendent. Bolin said parents will be included in the interim superintendent selection.
Former teacher Sheila Kessler said she’s seen politics and violence pervade the school district.
“I went to school to learn to teach reading, writing, math, science and social studies, not to play in politics,” she said.
Before she retired, Kessler said she kept a baseball bat in her room as a safety measure. She believes the protection of certain students is being prioritized over the safety of teachers.
Cox said he had about 15-20 people reach out to him on social media supporting him after his letter became public, saying they also had been targeted.
During her two years as superintendent, Cox said Crespo relied on race and gender parameters rather than experience to select candidates for administrative roles in the district. Cox complained that a second-year female assistant principal was chosen over him for Cheyenne Central High School principal.
He said these policies extended out to the treatment of students.
During a discussion on the merits of calling a snow day instead of holding a virtual school day, Cox said Fraley made derogatory remarks about the students at his school in south Cheyenne, a predominantly low-income part of the city.
Cox, who advocated for calling a snow day, said Fraley disagreed and said, “Even poor kids have phones.”
Now the principal at a high school in Wisconsin, Cox said he feels adequately supported in his new district, which he said checks with him multiple times a week to see how things are going.
What’s Next For LCSD1?
After accepting Crespo’s resignation, LCSD1 Director of Instruction Steven Newton was appointed as acting superintendent, a role that begins immediately.
Cox said he supports this appointment even though Newton gave him some of his harshest feedback he’s ever received in his career.
“Dr. Newton has had a longstanding career of success,” Cox said. “I couldn’t say enough positive things about him.”
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.