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Perry principal sues state board over suspended license, after accusations of hiding abuse

OKLAHOMA CITY - An elementary school principal, accused of failing to report child abuse inside her building, is suing the State Board of Education for suspending her teaching license.

Kenda Lyn Miller, 51, is facing a misdemeanor charge in Noble County.

Police said she brushed aside complaints from her students that 85-year-old teacher's aide Arnold Cowen touched them inappropriately.

The principal "believed these reports to be false, since she knew Cowen to be of great moral character and was a very 'nice guy,'" said the affidavit.

As a result, students told police they were afraid to tell their parents about the interactions and, often, would cry in the bathroom.

Police believe at least 10 students could have been spared from abuse had Miller reported their complaints.

Her lawsuit pushes back against the allegations and accuses the school board of damaging her reputation and her finances.

"Miller did report suspected abuse to the police and maintains her innocence of all charges," reads the complaint in Miller's first public denial of the charges.

The State Board of Education suspended Miller's teaching certificate Feb. 23 under an emergency order, something its attorney said wouldn't happen without evidence.

"These are not just blank allegations that we handle," said Brad Clark, general counsel for the Board of Education. "They are substantiated, whether it be through a probable cause affidavit or other form of evidence."

Clark cannot discuss the specifics of the Miller case but told NewsChannel 4 the state can't afford to take chances waiting for an investigation to be complete.

He pointed to a NewsChannel 4 investigation in September that uncovered a Yale teacher, accused of an inappropriate relationship with a student, had taken a job in a school in Texas.

"The board places prime importance on student safety, and this would be a perfect example of that," he said. "The individual may leave the state or travel to another region, obtain a job in the classroom and never report that."

In the civil suit, Miller argues there were no grounds for an emergency action, because she was removed from the school building and didn't have any contact with students following the charges.

"Miller was no rush to the public health, safety, or welfare, much less a risk that 'imperatively require[d] emergency action,'" the complaint reads. "The emergency order has injured Miller and continues to injure Miller, and unless temporarily restrained... will continue to injure Miller... and likely irreparably."

An emergency order means Miller is suspended without pay, the lawsuit alleges, meaning the principal has lost about a month of her salary "based on unproven claims."

"The mere existence of the Emergency Order of suspension damages Miller's professional reputation," the complaint reads. "And that harm is likely to continue for every prospective future employer within the education profession and perhaps beyond."

The Board of Education said payment on leave is a district's decision.

Acquitted teachers may apply to get their licenses reinstated and the suspensions expunged, the Board's attorney told NewsChannel 4, but that's only happened five or six times out of nearly 60 suspended licenses.

Clark can only recall one other similar lawsuit, which the Board of Education won.

Perry math teacher Jeffrey Sullins also had his license revoked by an emergency order in February.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges earlier this month.

Miller will be in court Thursday.