Appleton principal reaches plea deal

File photo (WLUK)

CHILTON - An Appleton elementary school principal accused of mishandling a child abuse report has pleaded no contest to a charge of disorderly conduct.

As part of a plea agreement with prosecutors, Richard Waters will be fined $100. Prosecution on a charge of failing to report child abuse was deferred, meaning that charge will be dropped unless he does not follow the terms of the deal.

The charges are related to a 2011 investigation into former special education teacher Mary Berglund at Janet Berry Elementary School. She was sentenced to three years’ probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanor battery charges.

Police say Waters failed to come forward with the reports in a timely manner, made a statement contrary to information provided by another witness and altered a letter regarding the case.

Waters, of Neenah, was initially charged with obstructing officers in November 2011. The case was dismissed, but prosecutors retained the ability to refile charges.

Appleton Area School District officials are happy the case is now settled.

"Absolutely. I mean, this has been hanging over the district's head for about three and a half years now," said chief financial officer Don Hietpas.

Richard Waters was the principal at Janet Berry Elementary School in 2011 when Mary Berglund was accused of child abuse.

Prosecutors said Waters did not properly report allegations against Berglund.

"He didn't keep copies of some papers that he'd passed on to his supervisors. So it's, in the eyes of the district, a pretty minor offense," said Hietpas.

Hietpas told FOX 11 Waters is still employed within the district. He's working in administration now, but might return as principal of Janet Berry.

"We certainly believe that Mr. Waters complied with the protocol of the district and did everything within his power," Hietpas explained.

The court was also critical of how the district handled the Berglund incident.

Hietpas told us, by law a school district must report abuse allegations to either child protective services or the police. He said the Appleton district did report to child protective services.

"Our legal obligation is to notify one or the other. We feel like we did that. What we've changed is we will certainly keep both in the loop from the get go," Hietpas explained.

Hietpas said this case has been a reminder the district can always improve how it responds to abuse cases.

School district officials have not stated a deadline to decide whether Waters will return to his former job, nor will they ask for any public input before making their decision.

However, in a statement the district says it has sent a letter to Janet Berry Elementary students' families regarding Waters' status and will make that letter available to the media within the next few days.