AP NEWS

Who penned South Lane mystery letter? Handwriting may tell

January 6, 2018

COTTAGE GROVE — An unsigned, handwritten letter given to each South Lane School Board member in August — which praised Superintendent Krista Parent, demanded the board support her and criticized a school district teacher — likely was written by Parent herself, local forensic document examiner James Green has concluded.

Parent did not respond to requests from The Register-Guard for comment regarding the matter.

Green said he compared the handwriting of the unsigned letter with known handwriting by Parent and found it was “probable” that Parent wrote the unsigned letter.

A resident of the South Lane School District asked Green to evaluate whether Parent wrote the unsigned letter. The resident, Jennifer Holloman, paid Green $700 for the analysis and provided The Register-Guard with a copy of the results.

Green is a former longtime forensic document examiner for the Eugene Police Department.

The unsigned letter, placed on the desk of each board member just before a Aug. 14 board work session, calls for the “attacks on Krista Parent by Erin Royse” to stop and goes on to describe the superintendent as a “pillar of the community” who “put Cottage Grove and this district on the map.”

In addition to describing details about Royse’s personal life, the letter also states that the school board was allowing libel and slander about Parent to take place, and that the board was “putting the district at great risk.”

“Krista has suffered great personal and professional loss as a result of many of Erin’s actions,” the letter states.

At the August meeting, it was unknown who put the document on the desk of each board member.

The distribution of the letter at that meeting came after public disclosure in May that Parent was having a romantic affair with a subordinate employee in the district — an educational assistant at Bohemia Elementary School.

Parent confirmed in May that the affair was taking place.

The educational assistant, Melissa Andrews, was at the time married to Royse, a teacher at Cottage Grove High School. Parent’s longtime partner is a teacher at Cottage Grove High School. Andrews and Royse finalized their divorce in November, according to Lane County court records. Parent and Andrews’ relationship seems to be ongoing, according to Andrews’ Facebook page, which features a photo of Parent, Andrews and Andrews’ children standing together. The photo was posted to Facebook on Nov. 22.

Parent’s affair came to light after Cottage Grove residents Jennifer and Chris Holloman filed a formal complaint with the district about the relationship. The complaint alleged that Parent spent personal time with the educational assistant during work hours on school premises and that her relationship with the educational assistant disrupted staff, administrators and the school board.

Several employees, who declined to speak on the record out of fear of losing their jobs, described Parent’s activity as “disruptive to the learning environment.” Some parents of students who attend school in the district also complained the relationship was “inappropriate” and “negatively affecting” their students.

Following news of the superintendent’s affair, Cottage Grove residents took to Facebook to air their grievances. Parent responded by having her lawyer send at least five Cottage Grove residents “cease and desist” letters demanding they remove posts on a “What’s Going on in Cottage Grove, Oregon” Facebook page that discussed Parent and her relationship with a district employee.

The warning letters said the Cottage Grove residents were making “false and misleading comments” about Parent and cautioned that Parent may sue and seek “monetary damages injunctive relief and costs” from the residents.

Responding to the complaint, the district paid about $8,000 for a weeklong private investigation into whether Parent violated any district or board policies by engaging in the affair. Parent eventually was cleared of any wrongdoing, mostly because the board has no legal jurisdiction over the matters listed in the complaint, according to the investigation report. The district has no policy against romantic relationships between supervisors and employees. The investigation report stated that the Hollomans’ allegations were not found to be true, nor were they found to be false.

Green concluded in his report that when comparing the anonymous letter to two separate samples of Parent’s handwriting, it was “probable” that the unsigned letter to the school board was written by Parent. “Probable — did write” was one of nine possible opinions, Green said in the report. It is the third highest in terms of likely authorship, behind “Identification of the writer” and “Highly probable — did write.”

Green explained in his report that “there were several identifying features in common with the writing in the (anonymous) letter with the known writing samples of Ms. Parent,” and that although there was some natural variation present in the writing in all three writing samples, that there were “no significant differences” between the three.

South Lane School Board Chair Alan Baas said in a phone interview Thursday that when the board received the letter in August, it was “dismissed as hearsay.” Baas said Thursday that he had not spoken to other board members about the letter, but that the board in some fashion would address it and the forensic report.

Because the letter was presented to board members, it became a public record and was obtained by Holloman through a public records request. Holloman then brought the letter and two additional writing samples of Parent’s writing to Green, who’s had his own forensic document practice since 2000 after serving as a forensic document examiner for the Eugene Police Department for 12 years.

Holloman, who is good friends with Royse, obtained the additional writing samples — which specified and approved new monthly stipends for Royse for additional work she had taken on in the district, as well as moving expenses — from Royse who had them in her personnel files. Royse is Parent’s employee.

Green said Friday in an interview that the known writing sample documents were legitimate.

“They were represented to be hers just as attorneys present known writing samples of someone,” he said. “But secondly, these documents were completed by her, they were actually forms with her name on it, signed by her.”

Holloman said she had the letter examined because she didn’t want the board to be deceived.

“I had heard rumblings of the letter and people who’d seen it thought Krista wrote it,” she said. “If she wrote it, I think it speaks to her character and willingness to defraud the board.”

Follow Alisha Roemeling on Twitter @alisharoemeling. Email alisha.roemeling@registerguard.com .