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.