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False comments, social media cause harm

Tom Burris

The Montezuma-Cortez Board of Education on May 16 was a meeting held in public, not a public meeting. This distinction means members of the public may comment but board members don’t respond and certainly don’t debate what’s said.

Some things were said that continue to distort my decision to place Principal Emily Moreland on paid administrative leave. Moreland had already resigned as of the end of this school year.

I had never before in my life been called a bully. I worked in Cortez from 1997 to 2008, so I already knew some locals when I returned in May 2022. I’m a big guy, the size of a small polar bear. I could look like an imposing figure. I’m a very to-the-point person. I know my directives are strong and maybe sometimes short. But being called a bully is something else. It implies an intention to harass and hurt people. That is not who I am.

It’s difficult for my daughters to hear “Burris the bully.” They don’t understand and neither do I.

* Comments at the school board meeting by the person who says he is a therapist/social worker. The Journal reported he “has been called out to the school for his work as a therapist and mental health co-responder.” I’ve talked with my principals and counselors – we have no record or evidence of him being asked to come in. Also, I can’t say I’ve known a therapist who would so strongly – and willingly – publicly trashed me relentlessly, and on social media. The missives were unreal, hateful and hurtful.

If he’s set on seeing me fired, he should run for a seat on the school board. In that role, he’d have a legitimate platform.

* Comments at the meeting made by a teacher who said Moreland was “fired for standing up for her students,” as quoted on Friday in The Journal, before being put on administrative leave. This is absolutely false. She was not “fired.” And the standing up for her students part sounds similar to the quote from an unnamed source in The Journal’s April 20 story. Coincidence?

This teacher does not know the specifics of personnel actions and is causing harm by spreading misinformation that has become a firestorm on social media.

I’m glad, though, that Moreland was his “best principal.” I hope her support was reflected in his instruction to students. A relationship between a teacher and principal is very different from one between a superintendent and principal. It’s time to move on to focusing on supporting students in learning. This is where we need his efforts.

* Comments at the meeting made by a coach about stipends. Happy to look at how to prioritize higher pay for coaches. This is a legitimate request and coaches should be compensated fairly.

I was confused, though, by the comment about the hole in the playing field. This was taken care of in August 2022, redone after a faulty repair. When the playing field was originally constructed, a thin layer of topsoil was laid over clay. It’s an issue I inherited that had been there for years, including the concrete patch that was absolutely dangerous.

Yes, the playing field needs to be improved further. We can look more closely at this.

It’s time for all of us to put aside our differences and come together for the sake of our students. I walked into a challenging district. I’m here to do a job. You don’t have to like me. I may have a different way of doing things. But mutual respect goes a long way.

On a happier note, congratulations to graduating seniors. The world awaits the good work we hope you will do.

Tom Burris is superintendent of the Montezuma-Cortez School District. Email him at tburris@cortez.k12.co.us.