Mariposa & Yosemite

Parents slam school leader accused of biting officer during DUI arrest, others call for leniency

Multiple employees called for leniency this week from the Mariposa County Unified School District board of trustees, which put its recently arrested superintendent on leave, but district parents weren’t so forgiving on Thursday.

Superintendent Robin Hopper, 54, on Sunday drunkenly crashed into a utility pole along Highway 140 just east of Planada at around 6:05 p.m., according to the California Highway Patrol. Hours later, while being processed into jail, she bit a corrections officer, according to Merced County authorities.

Saying “everyone makes mistakes” and “no one should be judged on one action,” several people spoke on Hopper’s behalf this week.

At the same time, some parents made their voices heard encouraged the school board to make an example of Hopper because she works with impressionable children.

“We have Sober Grad Night coming up here. The older kids are going to see this as, ‘well if the superintendent of schools can drink and drive, why can’t I?’ ” said Teresa Gross, mother of a Mariposa student. “A lot of people want to treat this as if it’s a boo-boo Band-Aid moment, and it’s not. This is a serious situation.”

Robin Hopper Merced County Sheriff’s Office Fresno

Hopper offered no apologies following the meeting Thursday in which she was placed on paid administrative leave through the end of her contract in June. She announced in December her intention to resign in June, according to the Mariposa Gazette.

Instead, she defiantly told the board of trustees that they could not put her on leave from her elected position. And, she may be right.

Mariposa’s educational system is something of an oddity in California. Most school districts’ superintendents are hired by a school board and then each county has a superintendent elected by voters. The county position oversees special programs administered at a countywide level.

In Mariposa, for decades now, the Mariposa County Unified School District has hired a superintendent that is then appointed to fill the open elected position as superintendent of the Mariposa County Office of Education, according to officials. The superintendent has to run for re-election every four years.

The board of trustees in Mariposa County oversees both the school district and the county office of education.

They voted in two separate meetings on Thursday to put Hopper on leave from the two separate positions.

“From the board’s perspective, this is never easy. We take our charge very seriously,” board member Wayne Forsythe said during Thursday’s meeting.

Hopper was hired in 2014 by the district. According to Mariposa County Clerk Keith Williams, Hopper was appointed to the elected position on June 19, 2014. She ran unopposed last year.

Hopper vowed that she would return to elected position, arguing the board does not have the authority to remove her. “My county position will remain,” she said.

Phone calls to her office on Friday went unanswered. Email to her work address bounced back as undeliverable.

Under elections code, Williams said, Hopper cannot be removed from office by the board and answers only to the voters.

Governing boards and elected officials have butted heads in recent years with the board unable to officially discipline or remove those elected to office.

For example, in 2017 the Madera County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution saying District Attorney David Linn “tarnished the reputation” of the District Attorney’s Office with alleged abusive behavior. They called on him to resign.

Linn did not resign and stayed in office until he was voted out the following year.

Hopper’s payment package is about $177,000 a year, according to the human resources department. She earns $152,085 in pay and benefits as the district superintendent, and another $24,562 for the elected position.

In a brief interview after she was placed on leave, Hopper refused to comment on the biting accusation or to deny it happened. She said she was advised by an attorney not to comment.

Her supporters this week included Merlin Jones, Mariposa County District 2 supervisor.

“Robin Hopper has helped the Greeley Hill school and this district probably more than any other superintendent I have ever known,” he said. “And she has been nothing but an upstanding citizen and very supportive of all the kids.”

Jones went on to say he was “totally shocked” over the biting accusation, saying it is out of Hopper’s character.

Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said Hopper was intoxicated, “I think frightened and didn’t like what was going on” when she bit a corrections officer on the arm. He described the injuries as minor, but said the officer had to be assessed in urgent care, “because human bites are bad.”

The officer was on modified duty for two days, he said.

Megan Pitman, a mother of three children who attend Mariposa schools, said she happened to be driving on Highway 140 and witnessed the crash. She learned later that it involved the superintendent.

Her 10-year-old daughter, she said, was traumatized witnessing the violent crash and learned at school that it was Hopper in the driver’s seat.

“That decision could have cost me and my daughter our lives because we were right there. ... That mistake is unforgivable,” she said. “I should never have to explain to my daughter that someone she looks up to made a mistake like that.”

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star