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Residents wanted information about the treatment of teachers and asked for more openness in the board’s actions.
Friday, July 19, 2013
A crowd of more than 100 people shouted questions and calls for more open Patrick County School Board meetings at what they described as a rare public comment session at Thursday’s regular meeting.
County residents asked the reasons for the departure of the outside mediator engaged to investigate five teachers’ complaints about retaliation after they gave information to the state Department of Education that resulted in a searing report about improperly awarded diplomas, awards of credit, testing and teaching licensure.
They asked about why several high school teachers were transferred to elementary schools and elementary school teachers sent to the high school, as well as about the disappearance of older board minutes from the school system’s website and why the board doesn’t meet at more convenient times.
“We want our schools back,” Jonathan Large said. “In more than 40 years, I’ve never seen the kind of chaos and controversy we’re seeing now.”
During the 40-minute comment session, parents and teachers also complained about what they called a dictatorial management style of Superintendent Roger Morris. Morris sat, frowning, with eyes cast down through most of the session.
“When people ask me about the Patrick County School board, I say one word describes it: ‘reprisal.’ Reprisals, reprisals, reprisals,” said former attorney general Mary Sue Terry, who had been banned from school board meetings last month but who had been granted permission to come Thursday.
She said she would have shown up anyway. In response to a question that most board members ignored, member Quinn Brim said he had been unaware of the letter banning her until after it was issued.
“I would really like it if you could adopt a more collaborative management style,” said parent Jennifer Health. “Instead of trying to push down people who have a voice, you should embrace them.”
Math teacher Elizabeth Wallace said, “Moving people against their will and out of their area of expertise is totally counterproductive.”
Other speakers noted that neither the state education department nor a consultant the board hired to help it address the department’s concerns had suggested reassigning teachers.
“Were these changes made to improve the school system, or were they made to intimidate, harass and retaliate?” county resident Danny Wood asked.
As the comment session ended and the audience kept shouting questions, board Chairman Ronnie Terry said members would discuss their concerns and issue a news release, prompting renewed calls for an open meeting and complaints of excessive secrecy.
Tensions have been on the rise for several months.
The chairman of the county’s board of supervisors has said the school superintendent needs to go, and the superintendent has sued the supervisors’ chairman for defamation, seeking $10.35 million.
There were questions about the school system’s credit card bills, complaints to the state that resulted in a finding that 21 students received diplomas they weren’t entitled to, and teacher complaints of harassment and retaliation. Teachers had earlier protested use of their Social Security numbers in a computerized grading system and alleged breakdowns of discipline in the high school.
Tempers rose last year when the school board reduced incentive payments to teachers who had retired earlier, and didn’t cool when it restored payments but said retirees had to work as substitutes or teachers for twice as many days.
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