School Board hears mothers’ pleas

Dewain E. Peek/OCN screen shot

Former LA student Elizabeth Ann Rudd speaks to the School Board, with her mother, Carol Ann Rudd, at her side.

By Dewain E. Peek,

OCN Editor

Overton County Board of Education opened the Tuesday, July 14 regular monthly meeting addressing an investigation into a Livingston Academy teacher accused of making sexual remarks to female students.

Along with a statement from Director of Schools Mark Winningham, the School Board heard pleas from two mothers who support their daughters’ allegations of teacher misconduct.

Director Winningham read, “On Wednesday, Feb. 26th, 2020, during the course of investigating a complaint involving Special Education services. Administrators at Livingston Academy received information regarding allegations of inappropriate conduct regarding Mark Lee.

“Based on the statements of the students, the school administrators, an investigation was launched on that same day regarding the allegations. Three students whose names had been mentioned were interviewed.

“On Monday, March the 2nd, 2020, the parents of one of the students interviewed met with school administrators who were informed of interim measures the school system had taken. They were assured that the investigation was ongoing.

“On Monday, March the 2nd, 2020, a meeting was held with the school superintendent, Mr, Lee, and school administrators where the allegations were discussed.

“On Wednesday, March the 4th, 2020, a meeting was held with Mr. Lee, his TEA representative, and school administration. At that meeting, Mr. Lee was informed of his suspension of three days for allegations of inappropriate conduct. Moreover, the matter will receive continued attention should other allegations come to the attention of the school system.

“Soon thereafter this, District Attorney General undertook an investigation of the matter and Mr. Lee was placed on suspension without pay pending the completion of that investigation. The school system’s inquiries into this matter were ongoing, however, some delay occurred due to the closing of schools and the school system’s Central Office because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Upon completing his investigation, the District Attorney General determined that no charges would be pursued against Mr. Lee; however, during this time of suspension, the school system received three complaints regarding inappropriate statements made by Mr. Lee. Two of the statements involved allegations of statements which were made between 13 and 17 years ago. Another statement received involved allegations of statements that were made three to four years ago.

“Based on the receipt of these statements and the content of allegations it has been determined that Mr. Lee will be suspended without pay as a teacher with the Overton County Board of Education for a period of 90 days. This suspension will be reported to the State Board of Education for possible licensure action. He will be removed as a teacher at Livingston Academy effective immediately and subject to assignment within the school system by the director of schools.

“He will be placed on a professional probation effective immediately and records of all these administrative actions will be placed in his public personnel file.”

Carol Ann Rudd was then given 5 minutes to speak to the School Board about her daughter, Elizabeth Ann Rudd, who she alleged was sexually harassed repeatedly by Livingston Academy teacher Mark Lee.

“In an effort to protect future students from sexual harassment by this teacher, Elizabeth Ann chose to tell her heartbreaking story on social media a couple weeks ago,” Carol Rudd said.

She also alleged that her daughter is not the first student sexually harassed by Lee.

“Past documentation of Mark Lee’s behavior should have prevented my child from enduring this,” Carol Rudd alleged. “As a concerned parent, I’m here tonight to ask you what is being done to prevent this from happening to future students and I ask you why did this happen to my child? And I beg you, as a mother, to please do the right thing and remove him from the school system and make our children safe. Please, I beg you.”

School Board member Mike Hayes asked when the 90-day suspension would end, and Director Winningham said it has been completed.

No more was said of the matter until the work session held immediately following the business meeting.

Resident Mike Kinnaird questioned the School board and alleged, “When I was in high school, he was still acting that way.”

A woman who did not identify herself stood up to say that a teacher made a complaint against Lee in 2017.

“That was my little girl,” she said, indicating the teacher interceded for her daughter. “And I’m still waiting for an answer as to what the Board found out in that investigation. Three years later. Still waiting.”

She did not say who the complaint was presented to in the LA administration, but she applauded the current principal.

“The only person in this system that ever asked for a statement was Richard Melton this year, in 2020. This Board was given the statement in 2017.”

Hayes said, “I’ve never seen the statement.”

Hayes later went on to explain that personnel matters are handled by the director of schools and that the Board does not see such statements.

Kinnaird asserted that the School Board has the ability to hire and fire teachers, to which Hayes said, “No, the Board does not have the ability to hire and fire.”

Kinnaird turned around and asked, “Brett, is that right?”

His question was directed at attorney Brett Knight, who had asserted that very argument while pushing for reinstatement of Lesley Riddle as basketball coach, who had been removed from that position after serving for many years as both basketball coach and principal at Livingston Academy and later as basketball coach and vice principal.

Knight backed up on that assertion, saying, “He is correct in that the Board hires and fires the director.”

He said the Board has no direct say in the hiring and firing of personnel.

“They set the policies, they set the tone, they set the standards,” Knight said. “They call for investigations. They call for hearings. They hire and they fire a director if he is not following their direction in their view.”

Others in the “social distanced” meeting room asked why the Board has not investigated the matter further.

Chairman Howard Miller said the Board does not have the authority to investigate, but Knight said, “They most certainly do.”

Discussion deteriorated somewhat after that point, and the School Board members, with the exception of Larry Looper, who was absent, filed into an adjoining room to go into a closed session with School Board Attorney Chuck Cagle.

All school employees essential

In actions approved by the School Board during the business meeting, all school employees were designated as essential workers.

Resignations and leaves

Letters of resignation were accepted from April Daniels, Jamie Bournes, Regina Monday, Kathryn Shurett, and Tonya Bilyeu.

Leaves of absence were approved for Amber Upchurch Steddum, from August 2, 2020 to January 4, 2021, and for Katie Loftis, from August 7, 2020, to December 18, 2020.

Budget actions

The 2020-2021 General Purpose Budget was approved, as was the Food Service Budget for 2020-2021, and 142 Federal Projects budget for 2020-2021.

The following revisions were approved: 2019-2020 Carl Perkins Basic Revision #5; 2019-2020 IDEA Part B Revision #4; and 2019-2020 Title 1A Revision #4.

The following budgets were approved: 2020-2021 Consolidated Administration Original Budget; 2020-2021 Title 1A Original Budget; 2020-2021 Title 2A Original Budget; 2020-2021 Title IV Original Budget; 2020-2021 Title V Original Budget; 2020-2021 IDEA Part B Original Budget; 2020-2021 IDEA Part Preschool Original Budget; and 2020-2021 Carl Perkins Original Budget.

The 2020-2021 IDEA Partnership for Systemic Change was approved.

Policies

First reading approval was given for the following policies: 4.205 Enrollment on College Level Courses; 6.319 Alternative Education; 6.309 Zero Tolerance Offences; 6.319 Suspension; 6.317 Student Disciplinary Hearing Authority; 6.409 Reporting Child Abuse.

Bids

Cookeville Heating and Cooling’s bid for rooftop units for Allons Elementary School at $18,965 was approved.

The following bids from CDW were approved: 141 ViewSonic at $750 each for a total of $105,750; 141 Logitech webcams at $89 each for a total of $12,459; and 141 wireless display adapters at $42 each for a total of $5,922.

The following bids were approved: 141 stands at $106 each for a total of $14,946; 141 USB-C HDMI adapters at $18 each for a total of $2,538; 141 Surface docs at $168 each for a total of $23,688; 141 Capture cards at $31.99 each for a total of $4,510.59.

A bid from Tierney was approved for 141 Surface Pro cases at $29.38 each for a total of $4,142.58.

The state contract bid of Microsoft was approved for 141 Surface Pro 7 at $696.99 each for a total of $98,275.59 and 141 surface type covers at $97.49 each for a total of $13,746.09.

CDW’s bid for 1,108 student devices was approved at $208 each for a total of $230,464.

Chrome Pilot’s bid for 1,108 cases was approved at $12.99 each for a total of $14,392.92.

State contract bid was approved for 70 Teacher SP7 at $696.99 each for a total of $48,789.30, 70 Teacher SP7 type covers at $97.49 each for a total of $6,824.30, and 70 Surface Pens at $69.99 each for a total of $4,899.30.

Minutes

Minutes of the June 18, 2020, meeting were approved.

Director’s Report

Director Winningham issued the Director’s Report to the School Board. Actions taken by the school director are as follows:

•Hired David Sadler for junior high cross country coach, effective May 8, 2020, as recommended by Director Mark Winningham.

•Hired Karen Tower as Livingston Middle School girls basketball coach, as recommended by Director Mark Winningham.

•Hired the following non-tenured teachers, as recommended by A.H. Roberts Principal Brandon Cross: Kadie Bilbrey, Kara Brown, Lisa Coil, Kristie Garrett, Michael Hooper, and Laura Pratt.

•Hired the following non-tenured teachers, as recommended by Allons Principal Dale Flatt: Julianne Moffitt, Brittany McLearran, Tanner Lacy, Josh Danner, and Tammy Hyder.

•Hired the following non-tenured teachers, as recommended by Hilham Principal Kim Dillon: Zach Alley, Regina Radencic, Tonya Storie, and Courtney Todd.

•Hired the following non-tenured teachers, as recommended by Livingston Academy Principal Richard Melton: Natasha Taylor Collins, Jonathan Enix, Molly Gore, Allison Hull, Abby Jolley, Megan Kassel, Dee Smith, Lauren Wood, Kaitlyn Woods, Jeremy McLerran, Nate Kennard, Alesha Reeder, Michelle Billings, Stephen Henson, Lauren Coffman, and Karla Crabtree.

•Hired the following non-tenured teachers, as recommended by Livingston Middle School Principal Doug Smith: Megan Cobble, Rebecca Gore, Michael Graff, Michael Holbrook, Brittany Rooker, Carol Sampley, Kelli Smith, and Sarah Sullivan.

•Hired the following non-tenured teachers, as recommended by Rickman Principal Donnie Holman: Kelly Beasley, Lisa Gabbard, Allison Lacy, Krishenna Mullins, Rachael Ramsey, and Kellie Webb.

•Hired the following non-tenured teachers, as recommended by Wilson Principal Ashley Fisher: Sara Jones, Chasity Key, and Wendy Haney.

School reopening

In the work session, some questions were asked about school reopening.

School Board member Ricky Dodson asked if temperatures will be taken when students board a bus.

“The bus driver cannot,” Director Winningham answered. “I don’t know that it’s legal for anyone to do that on the bus. We’re trying to check into that.”

Though Chairman Miller spoke of the possibility of pushing the opening back to September, Overton County schools are still scheduled to open Friday, Aug. 7.