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The Belgrade News

Trustees deny extending insurance to McNelis

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Posted: Friday, November 16, 2012 12:51 pm

Former Belgrade principal Kevin McNelis submitted his formal resignation Monday to the Belgrade School Board on the two-year anniversary of the assault in the halls of Belgrade High School that ended his career.

On October 25, a man entered Belgrade High School and attempted to take a young girl. McNelis followed the man to the parking lot and he released the girl.

McNelis headed back to the high school, the man in tow. The bell had just rung. The principal attempted to push students back into the hall, away from the man. McNelis remembers he was then punched in the head repeatedly, until finally falling to the ground.

After the assault, McNelis was taken to Bozeman Deaconess Hospital. He started all kinds of therapy to try to recover from the incident. But he didn’t recover.

McNelis was given a year of paid medical leave to the tune of $90,000. When that expired in June, McNelis asked the board to continue his health coverage for five more years. The board declined.

Belgrade School Board Chairman Lance Voegele would not comment on the decision without consulting the school district’s attorney.

“I don’t know why this can’t be dealt with with attorneys,” Voegele said. “I don’t know why Kevin had to stick his nose in it.”

Attorney Debra Silk said she would not comment because the situation was handled in a closed session.

Trustees can operate behind closed doors on issues regarding personnel decisions and legal matters, though state law requires boards to announce any decisions made in executive session.

While school officials will not talk about the meeting, McNelis said Voegele chastised him for talking to trustees about continuing his health insurance.

 “I was down in the dumps, as low as I can get and he admonishes me at the board meeting,” McNelis said. “It absolutely ripped my heart out. He kicked me when I was down.”

Since then, McNelis said he hasn’t received a dime of workman’s compensation. State workers told McNelis they would not shell out any money for his injuries because they claim the extreme residual headaches are the result of sinus problems McNelis has always suffered.

The optometrist McNelis visits wrote in a letter saying the headaches are not caused by sinuses, but an occipital lobe brain injury from the assault.

“One of the saddest things is I can’t do anything I used to do,” McNelis said. “I can’t play basketball, I can’t go on a fishing boat, I can’t ride a horse or go backpacking. It even bothers me to walk.”  

McNelis said he also can’t attend football games or band concerts.

“I don’t go to the games because the noise would kill my head,” he said. “When I was a principal, I never missed a game.”

When McNelis failed to improve drastically after the accident, doctors ran more tests. They determined he has occipital neuralgia, an affliction characterized by chronic pain in the upper neck, back of the head and eyes. Occipital neuralgia is the result of damage to the nerves, usually caused by trauma.

McNelis goes to four kinds of therapy each week: occupational, massage, speech and physical.

Without insurance, McNelis will pay $1,700 every month out-of-pocket, he said.

There is a petition circulating throughout the community that calls for the school board to continue McNelis’ health care coverage. McNelis said he didn’t start the petition but has heard some teachers are afraid to sign it because they worry the school board will retaliate against them.

Despite the final tension, McNelis insists he is very fond of the Belgrade school board trustees and had no disparaging remarks for them.

© 2015 The Belgrade News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • Discuss

Welcome to the discussion.


  • Parent of Belgrade student posted at 6:09 pm on Tue, Nov 20, 2012.

    Parent of Belgrade student Posts: 1

    If the citizens of Belgrade want to stop our school board from publicly demeaning other people as Mr Voegle did, perhaps the same people who voted him in can request he resign. This public attitude does not represent the majority of Belgrade citizens and the rude tone brings shame to a wonderful school district. Kevin McNelis deserves better and if it had been Mr. Voegle's son Kevin had protected, would he still be so callous? There are two sides, agreed, however Kevin did not make nasty rude comments about Lance. Please act like a true leader, Mr Voegle, and know when its time for you to step down. A great indication is cheap pot shots at a respected educator in the press.

  • Belgrade Citizen posted at 10:30 am on Tue, Nov 20, 2012.

    Belgrade Citizen Posts: 3

    I know there is always more than one side to each story, but I can't understand Lance's comments. Does he not know Mr. Mac? This man is an amazing human being!! I have not met many people in my life who are as generous and kind as he is. He ALWAYS stops and asks about our daughters! My daughters were lucky to have him as a principal and I hope that Lance will publicly apologize to Mr. Mac. Please sign the petition if you are able and if you have a way to contact Mr. Mac to show support, please do so.

  • Rick posted at 9:46 pm on Mon, Nov 19, 2012.

    Rick Posts: 1

    After teaching for 31 years in Belgrade, Lance Voegele's comments reflect the attitude of boards across Montana for their employees. It is always about the money, not the welfare of the students or employees. When negotiating contracts, the teachers are often told that the priviledge of living in the Gallatin Valley is worth ten or fifteen thousand dollars, so will never be the highest paid teachers in the state. After a statement of don't stick your nose in our business, the community should recall the chairman and his minions and replace them with people that are truly interested in maintaining the excellent education system that Belgrade students enjoy, through no effort of the school board, but through the dedication of the staff of Belgrade schools.

  • TWG posted at 3:06 pm on Mon, Nov 19, 2012.

    TWG Posts: 20

    Jaw dropping. It's time to investigate Lance Voegele and the rest of the Belgrade education system administrators and despicable Bureaucrats who would do something like this to a human being.

    Time for citizens to take control of this outrageous abuse of power and FIRE THOSE RESPONSIBLE. If they're found guilty of ANY crime, convict them and throw them in the slammer.


  • panther posted at 3:30 pm on Sun, Nov 18, 2012.

    panther Posts: 1

    Mr. McNelis is a great man and he has followed my oldest brother who had many health issues through me and my class of 2012. He was always there for his students at every game and at every event that happened while he was principal and its sad that the board of trustees are just shutting him down and he was injured while working and be given workmens comp for another 5 years. Mr. McNelis is a great man and has done anything and everything for the students and citizens of Montana and should be rewarded and not shut down and everyone should be signing that petition and not be scared of standing up for what they believe in even if they think they would loose their jobs it would show that they are standing up for what they believe in.

  • Bill Monger posted at 2:30 pm on Sat, Nov 17, 2012.

    Bill Monger Posts: 3


  • Bill Monger posted at 12:31 pm on Sat, Nov 17, 2012.

    Bill Monger Posts: 3

    Lance Voegele 388.4465 570.9825 lavoegele@belgradeschools.com
    This man is a member of the board of Belgrade Schools YOU have the right to contact him and let him know your opinion of how he handled this situation. I am not asking anyone to be mean or hateful, I believe Mr. Voegele does not understand the importance of the situation at hand. Please share with him the other side of the story. Thank you.

  • MontanaNative posted at 10:32 am on Sat, Nov 17, 2012.

    MontanaNative Posts: 1

    It was Mr Voegele's arrogant, uncaring attitude that convinced me to NOT vote for him in the last trustee elections!! He thinks he can set there in his high throne and pass uncaring judgements like that against our educators & students. He is constantly making personal, arbitrary & negative comments/judgements regarding our schools needs. Mr Voegele doesn't seem to realize his personal opinon is not relevant, he is employed by the public and should be making decisions that reflect what the public wants & needs and NOT what he wants or thinks.

    He made that readily apparent at laste years discussions regarding National Honor Society and the honor of wearing Cords during graduation. All he did during those meetings was throw road blocks at these wonderful kids who continually set a good example for others in our schools. He should have been supporting these kids, but he was arrogant & rude.

  • Grizzy46 posted at 9:50 pm on Fri, Nov 16, 2012.

    Grizzy46 Posts: 4

    Finally, I feel like I can share my concrens, frustrations and worries that I have held in for the past 2 years regarding my brother Kevin's tragic incident that occured while he was the Principal at Belgrade High School.

    My brother Kevin was born "paying it foreward". From as long as I can remeber Kevin was always the helping hands in and around our home town. He would never pass a stranded motorist, a person struggling to carry groceries, an elderly person shoveling snow, someone needing a house repair without offering to help or simply do the task for them. This list could go on...........

    It is with a distraught heart that I have had to watch my brother sruggle through these past 2 years not only suffering the physical and emotional side effects from the horindous beating he suffered while trying to protect his students and his staff but to also wittness the incredibly incesitive way in which he has been treated by some people in charge of his school district. They should be counting there blessings that this young lady was not abducted or other students or staff injured. It amazes me, puzzles me, infuriates me, and simply stunns me that a person can get injured at work and then not be taken care.

    All Kevin ever wanted was to be able to have some sense of control over and some sense of stability. He never ever wanted to go public with his situation. Some families and friends enocuraged him to do this months ago. He felt for sure that his beloved school district would be there for him. When all that is said and done they weren't and that my friends is what is most painful. Please pray for Kevin and his Family and sign any petetion that could possibly help him through this nightmare.
    Don't forget Kevin's wife, and daughters have also been affected from this rollycoaster chain of events.

  • weemong posted at 9:23 pm on Fri, Nov 16, 2012.

    weemong Posts: 1

    Thank you Hanna Stiff for bringing this great injustice to the publics eye. To the many parents of youth that have passed through the halls when Mr. McNelis was principal, you should be raising such a hue and cry that he is being treated like this. To the teachers that hesitate to sign a petition, there should be no hesitation because if you do not speak up now, should it come time for you, there may be no one to speak up for you. And to the Board of Trustees, how much money had Mr. McNelis save the district over the years he has faithfully served? When he left the middle school, how many people did you have to hire to replace him. Do what is right and allow him to retire with dignity. And Mr. Voegele, you should be thanking your lucky stars that Mr. McNelis did not want to get the lawyers involved.

  • Bill Monger posted at 7:17 pm on Fri, Nov 16, 2012.

    Bill Monger Posts: 3

    If you have ever had a child who went to school while Kevin was a Principal, if he ever lent you a helping hand, if you know of any time that he stayed well past his work day to help out at a ball game, or a band concert, if you have had the opportunity to be in the same room as him while he is making everyone present laugh with his sense of humor, then this is the time to stand up and give a little bit back to a man who has given so much and has only asked for what is at minimum what is fair and deserved. DO NOT let those in power ruin the rest of this mans life. There is no way that you can be a citizen of Belgrade or the state of Montana, and let this pass you by. If enough of you step up and speak out you CAN change the outcome of this story.
    I was going to log on and call a bunch a people a bunch of names and scream about how they were all a bunch of cowards, etc. but I know that Kevin McNelis would be the last person on the planet to do something like that and it would probably hurt him more to see anger and hatred brought forth due to this situation.
    All I ask is that you make a phone call or find out how to sign the petition or write to the papers and ask those who are in charge to make the right decision.

  • skyfod posted at 4:58 pm on Fri, Nov 16, 2012.

    skyfod Posts: 1

    Wow, I am speechless with absolute sorrow for the loving father, friend, and saint who very clearly loved his job and still actively helps those who were his students. He is a figure every young man should look up to and aspire to be. It breaks my heart that the school he gave everything to would say he shouldn't "stick his nose in it" and is treating a great man like Kevin this way. I hope he continues to fight for what he deserves. If someone can tell me where that petition is I would gladly sign it and get others to as well to show our support for Kevin and his supportive family.

  • sandrafiegi posted at 2:24 pm on Fri, Nov 16, 2012.

    sandrafiegi Posts: 1

    Where can I sign the petition? Mr. McNelis deserves health insurance for all he has given for Belgrade kids. He was injured doing more than his job, while at work.

  • Montana Girl posted at 1:32 pm on Fri, Nov 16, 2012.

    Montana Girl Posts: 1

    I am stunned at this ignorant and arrogant statement made by Board Chairman Lance Voegele. “I don’t know why this can’t be dealt with attorneys,” Voegele said. “I don’t know why Kevin had to stick his nose in it.”
    It's McNeil's head that was injured, he has EVERY right to stick his nose in his own business!
    The Board will waste a lot more taxpayer dollars fighting this with lawyers, than they would just doing the right thing for one of their own. McNeil took one for the team, and likely prevented injuries to God knows how many students, and subsequent lawsuits by parents whose kids were injured.
    Voegele and the Board members, who voted against extending benefits, need to stick THEIR noses elsewhere...


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