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Investigators find High Desert Middle School staff let visitors past locked door for years

(Updated: adding video, school district spokeswoman comments)

Incident led to police call-out, 'secure' status at school for half-hour

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – High Desert Middle School officials violated school district policy by allowing a man who turned out to be a wanted, registered sex offender past locked doors to use a staff bathroom last month – and have allowed such entry without required check-in on other occasions over several years, investigators said Friday.

The June 7 incident involving Thomas Lee Bear, 40, led to a police call-out on a suspicious person at the southeast Bend school, a half-hour “secure” lockout status and his arrest down the street. The results of an investigation were released Friday, along with video of the incident -- and an announcement that Principal Wendy McCulloch has resigned.

The investigation findings released Friday found that “within a few seconds of Bear’s arrival to the office lobby, he was escorted beyond the school’s locked doors to a staff bathroom in the administrative offices area."

After he left the bathroom, Bear was escorted back into the lobby, where he briefly sat down and “appeared to be experiencing a medical emergency.” School medical support was requested, but he left the school as they arrived, only to turn and be escorted back to the lobby for evaluation. He then left out the front doors a second time, a few minutes after arrival, leading to contacting police and the secure status.

“At no time was Bear in the presence of students,” the findings said, and he “did not gain access to the main school hallways or classrooms.”

Nevertheless, In a letter to school families, Superintendent Steven Cook said, “Entry by the public into secure areas of our schools, without mandatory check-in violates district policy, puts our school communities at risk, and is not acceptable.”

The findings said that “district administration has addressed the situation with the appropriate staff,” and further details cannot be shared because they are personnel matters. They did state that the district uses “progressive discipline (that) can range from a verbal reprimand to termination.”

Julianne Repman, director of communication and safety for the school district, says High Desert was the only school investigated, but the message is clear to all.

"We will very specifically be doing more of an audit at High Desert -- chatting with staff, chatting with perhaps with families and students to find out where we can make improvements," she said. "We've already begun some of that work and continuing to train wherever we see a gap."

Cook, meanwhile, told parents that High Desert Principal Wendy McCulloch recently resigned to become director of special education at a Washington state school district. Plans for an interim principal at High Desert could be announced in the next week.

"This was an unusual and completely unacceptable situation," Repman said. "We're happy in some ways that now it has been resolved, no one was hurt, and that we have the opportunity to do better, and to ensure through training throughout the district, as well as at High Desert -- that it doesn't happen again."

School district staff said they could not provide further details on the personnel matter; NewsChannel 21 reached out to McCulloch Friday, but she declined to comment.

Bear remains held on the federal warrant at the Deschutes County Jail.

Here are the two documents released Friday by Bend-La Pine Schools:

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Carly Keenan

Carly Keenan is a multimedia journalist and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Carly here.

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