Holding Leaders Accountable

A statement from the teacher who filed a complaint with 4J against Superintendent Andy Dey

By Julie Stewart

I am the teacher who filed the formal complaint of sexual harassment against Superintendent Andy Dey on Feb. 24 for kissing me on the cheek without my consent. While this may have played a role in persuading the Eugene District 4J School Board to part ways with him, I am in no way taking credit for the board’s decision. My complaint was just one of several allegations against Dey, and the board may well have reached the same decision without my complaint. 

But since I am in a position to speak out when others who have filed complaints may not be able to, I want to share my story. Word about my complaint has spread quickly, and I would much rather tell my full story openly than have it continue to be gossiped about. 

As an educator, I work hard to set a good example for my students. I love my job and I genuinely enjoy working with teenagers. I find them hilarious, creative and caring, and they fill me with hope for the future. 

However, one difficult thing about teaching teenagers is knowing the many dangers they will face as they make their way in the world. In this country, approximately 25 percent of women will be sexually assaulted. It kills me to think that one in four of the amazing young women I teach will have to go through that. 

It needs to change, and change starts with holding people accountable any time they violate boundaries. To be clear, I do not consider what Dey did to me to be sexual assault. But combating the pervasiveness of sexual assault doesn’t just involve prosecuting rapists. It involves changing the cultural expectation that men are entitled to touch women’s bodies. 

By filing this complaint, I am setting an example for my students that when someone touches you in an unwelcome way without your consent, you hold them accountable. It may be the most important thing I ever teach them.  

I teach science at South Eugene High School, where I have worked for the past 16 years. During the time Dey was principal of South, our relationship could best be described as adversarial. In my career, I have worked with five principals and a dozen vice principals and have gotten along fine with all of them, except for Dey. I found him to be extremely dismissive of my input as a professional. If I questioned any of his decisions, he reacted aggressively. Nearly every interaction I had with him was excruciatingly unpleasant for me. 

When Dey became the 4J director of secondary education, I decided to adopt a policy of minimal contact with him for my own mental health. I refused to make any contact with him, even by email, unless it was absolutely necessary for my job. I continued this policy once he became superintendent. 

I was content to keep this détente right until the moment he walked up and kissed me.

It happened at the Celebrate South event, which is put on by the Friends of South organization as a fundraiser for the school. I was talking to a friend, when Dey walked up and greeted her by hugging her and kissing her on the cheek. She and Dey are friends outside of work, so I found this a bit surprising, but not inexplicable. 

However, Dey then turned to me and greeted me the same way. He did not ask for my consent. I tried to tell him to stop, but the words would not come out. I felt his arm reach around my back and his lips touch the side of my head, along with a loud “mwah” in my ear. I was so shocked that I froze completely and could not move or talk for several moments. 

Once I regained control of my body, I quickly walked away. I ran into another teacher I work with, and I explained what had just happened. He reassured me that Dey’s behavior was inappropriate and I was right to be upset. I decided I needed to say something to Dey, since I had been unable to speak during the incident. I found him in the reception hall and told him to never kiss me again. He apologized and said that kissing on the cheek was common in his family. Which is fine, but I am not a member of his family nor his friend. I am his employee, and kissing an employee is wildly inappropriate.

I don’t believe that Dey necessarily had ill intent when he kissed me. But, as I have been taught at 4J professional development trainings, it is not intent, but impact that matters. And, for a number of reasons, this event was extremely impactful for me. First off, given our history I would not consent to even shaking Dey’s hand, much less being kissed by him. Secondly, I have a history of childhood abuse and the feeling of being frozen and unable to move my body was devastatingly familiar to me. Being forced to relive such a moment filled me with rage and panic. 

Finally, I have spent the past five years putting up firm boundaries with Dey and working to minimize contact. He demolished those boundaries and forced me into a position where I would have to talk about and think about him almost constantly during the investigation. While he may have had no ill intent, the negative impacts of his actions will continue to reverberate throughout my life for some time.

I am grateful to the 4J school board for holding Dey accountable by not renewing his contract. I am even more grateful to the other women who had the courage to file complaints against Dey before I filed mine. Sadly, it often seems that women are not believed until there is a critical mass making similar allegations. 

I do wish that before Dey was hired the school board had believed the numerous people who sent letters describing Dey as a bully, as this whole situation could have been avoided. I hope that the board learns from this experience and uses it to make better hiring decisions in the future.

Julie Stewart is a longtime science teacher at South Eugene High School.