St. Stephens teachers forced to reapply for positions after recent administrative upheaval; some feel BIE report targeted wrong individuals

(Fremont County, WY) – The entirety of the St. Stephens Indian School staff was informed in the past few weeks that they would have to reapply for their jobs going into the 2022-23 year if they wished to continue teaching at the school, after being forced to completely clean out their classrooms on their last day, May 27.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) has assumed oversight of the school following the decision by the Wind River Inter-Tribal Council to terminate administrators and the school board, due to reports of “widespread wrongdoing,” following an independent federal investigation.

In accordance with the BIE recommendations, St. Stephens administrators terminated from their roles included: Frank No Runner, Superintendent; Greg Juneau, K-8 Principal; Matthew Mortimer, St. Stephens High School Principal; and Pattee Bement (No Runner’s wife), Food Services Supervisor.

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Also immediately relieved of duties was the entire School Board, comprised of: William C’Hair; John Goggles; Ronnie Oldman; and Eugene Ridge Bear.

Initially, St. Stephens employee Blakke Bertram was named as Interim Superintendent, but later stepped down and was replaced by the BIE Education Program Administrator Walter Coulter.

During that time, a five person education committee was also named to act as a temporary replacement for the School Board, named by the Inter-Tribal Council.

The Aftermath

According to some St. Stephens School staff, school employees found out about the initial administrative terminations from the public press release issued by the Inter-Tribal Council.

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This abrupt transition reportedly left many teachers to their own devices in terms of running the schools and dealing with damage control.

According to staff, rampant speculation among students and teachers alike spread throughout the school after the report.

Some students commented to staff that they felt unsafe after hearing the report’s findings, while others didn’t finish out the school year in person, and some began making plans to transfer schools.

Staff were eventually told to clean out their rooms as stated above, and were also informed that if they wanted to continue working at St. Stephens they would have to reapply for their jobs through usajobs.gov.

Teachers were also told there was no guarantee that they would get their jobs back, leaving many feeling uncertain about their future with school, and others already applying for other open positions within the County.

The other fear among staff hoping to apply for their former positions, is the timing for the normal hiring season for schools, which usually occurs in the late winter and early spring months for most schools, with the concern then is having to wait until that same time in 2023 before more significant certified positions are offered again.

While unconfirmed at this point, some staff also expressed additional concerns about positions being combined or eliminated entirely if they don’t align with BIE plans, adding more uncertainty to the mix.

Unfair Accusations

On Wednesday, June 1st, six anonymous individuals with ties to St. Stephens met with various news organizations to discuss many of the fears mentioned above, and mainly to come to the defense of Matt Mortimore and his wife Macey, an administrator at the school.

“Losing Matt and Macey felt like a death,” noted one individual, with the others at the press conference sharing similar sentiments.

A written witness statement in the report alleged that “Frank No Runner, Matthew Mortimore, Greg Juneau, Pattee Bement, Macey Mortimore, (and more)” were reportedly at a party at No Runner’s house, where an underage girl was intoxicated and dancing topless on a coffee table.

Members of the group defended Matt and Macey, commenting that they would never condone the kind of behavior they were alleged to have been witness to, let alone take part in it.

While only Matt was let go, the group commented that on the last day of school, May 27, Macey was notified by the education committee that she was being indefinitely suspended without pay, and had to leave the premises.

One of those who spoke to the press commented that they felt Tribes intentions were good in terms of initiating the investigation, and that No Runner and Juneau were indeed likely guilty of the allegations, but the BIE report unfairly included the Mortimores in those allegations.

One individual stated they felt it was also unfair to include Matt and Macey’s names in the report based on one witness statement, without getting a chance to provide comment themselves.

It was also noted that discontent among staff and reports of lack of leadership were not the case at the high school where Mortimore was principal, and that “Matt and Macey constantly picked up their (No Runner and Juneau’s) slack.”

Concerns about receiving community/co-worker backlash if they revealed their identities were also brought up, due to supporting the Mortimores being somewhat of a “guilty by association” situation.

Ultimately, the group who spoke stated that they “understood what the Tribe was doing, acting in an emergency situation,” but did not feel the BIE report was thorough enough or “provide due process or due diligence” for the Mortimores.

When asked if the BIE had provided a timeline for next steps and hiring announcements, the group stated that it had not.

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