St. Marguerite principal resigns following alcohol accusation

Published: Thursday, March 7 2013 4:40 p.m. MST

TOOELE — The principal at St. Marguerite Catholic School in Tooele resigned Wednesday following an investigation into misconduct involving alcohol at the school.

Marcella Burden was suspended March 1 while the Catholic Schools Office of the Diocese of Salt Lake City investigated the allegations of misconduct from the day before. She was accused of drinking alcohol in the cafeteria where children were also having lunch. 

Burden was cleared of any wrongdoing with the children and was reinstated. But less than 24 hours after the decision, she tendered her resignation.

The move came a day before a group of parents planned to protest Burden's reinstatement by taking their kids out of St. Marguerite Catholic School until the Catholic Schools Office changed its mind.

Toni Bench was among those planning to withdraw her children from the school at 15 S. 7th Street. She said she was first alerted to the alleged drinking incident when her daughter came home Friday afternoon.

"She came home, and she did tell me that she saw that Marcella was drinking," Bench said.

Burden and "several individuals" were suspended and an investigation was launched. Nineteen people were interviewed about what occurred during the faculty/staff luncheon. After that investigation, the Catholic Schools Office reinstated everyone and sent a letter to parents saying:

"Based on the investigation, we conclude that no children were directly involved in the use of alcohol; few if any of the faculty or staff besides the administration actually had a drink that contained alcohol; and faculty and staff who were present are aware of the lack of professionalism and the violation of safe environment policy involved.”

The suspended faculty and staff members were reinstated Wednesday night. The schools office told parents that letters of reprimand would be placed in their files and they would be required to receive sensitivity and safe environment professional development.

Bench was deeply concerned after getting word that Burden would be reinstated. Bench, along with some other parents, felt they had to take action.

"We were planning on staging a walkout and having the parents who were willing sign (their children) out until she was relieved of her duties," Bench said.

But just hours before their planned walkout, the Catholic Schools Office sent another note to parents. 

"Effectively immediately, the Catholic Schools Office of the Diocese of Salt Lake City has accepted the resignation of St. Marguerite School Principal Marcella Burden," the statement said. "The continued understanding and compassion of the St. Marguerite community for the school faculty and staff are greatly appreciated. Be assured that the best interests of the children have been, continue to be, and will be of paramount importance."

"I think she made the right decision for the children, for the school," Bench said.

Burden did not return calls for comment.

Christine Nielsen was appointed as acting principal.

Contributing:  Viviane Vo-Duc  

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