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School board, director at odds over incident at Jonesborough Elementary

June 6th, 2014 9:33 am by Nathan Baker

School board, director at odds over incident at Jonesborough Elementary

Washington County Schools Director Ron Dykes addresses the board during its May meeting. (Lee Talbert / Johnson City Press)

A tense meeting Thursday night of the Washington County Board of Education revealed a divide between some of its members and Director of Schools Ron Dykes, allegations of misconduct against district staff and the threat of legal action.

The item of discussion that evoked the most passion was added to the agenda shortly after the meeting started by board member Phillip McLain, who said he wished to voice community concerns.

When his late add-on was recognized, McLain began by reading a prepared statement, which said he had heard complaints from “a variety of taxpaying citizens” questioning the qualifications and credentials of a counselor at Jonesborough Elementary School.

In the public meeting, McLain officially requested the educational transcripts of the unnamed counselor from Dykes and school administrators, an action he said was carried out on the advice of an attorney.

The members went on to discuss a situation between the counselor and a librarian, also at Jonesborough Elementary.

“I apologize to the board for bringing it up right now, but I felt the need to do it based on all the events over the last four or five weeks,” McLain said, adding that “it seemed like there was a brick wall in front of (him)” when he searched for answers to his queries.

Personnel records from the district document a disagreement in February between counselor Vicki Woodward and librarian Julie Gantley.

According to the files, school administrators conducted interviews with the two staff members and received a complaint from Gantley that Woodward was not watching her class one morning and cursed and threatened Gantley after she called the office searching for her.

Woodward told administrators that the conversation between the two got heated, but she never threatened Gantley, a statement Principal Lisa Lady wrote in the file that she believed.

The documentation reflects that both staff members were warned, but no official reprimand was filed and no punitive action was taken against them.

McLain said his questions about that incident had not been satisfied, but said a recent interaction with Dykes left him with “no desire to go to his office and talk to him about that.”

Some board members questioned McLain’s willingness to discuss staff items in a public forum, when usually such are relegated to the director’s purview.

“We only have any power at all in this board room,” member Mary Lo Silvers said. “When I get a complaint, once in a great while, I listen carefully, I’m sympathetic to their situation, and I say, ‘I will tell Mr. Dykes, and he’ll handle it.’ We are not supposed to handle those situations.”

Dykes took offense to McLain’s insinuations of misconduct and hindrance, saying he has “never been involved as director of schools in anything unethical or illegal, and (he) has never been disrespectful.”

“To indicate that something is not above board here is really a slap in the face to all four of my administrators, and I take great exception to that,” he added.

Board member Jack Leonard said his concern lay with a letter the board received from an attorney threatening legal action against Dykes for an unspecified reason.

“The letter that I got, that I think every one of us got, was about our director being sued,” Leonard said. “That’s why we’re concerned about these things.”

David Hammond, another board member, said his concern lay with attempting to sort out what actually happened the day of the reported incident.

“There are strong accusations here, and we have a lawsuit that could walk and talk,” he said. “If we need to clear somebody’s name, whether it be the guidance counselor or the librarian, I think we need to do it. We owe it to the people of Washington County.”

Dykes said the matter had been thoroughly investigated by at least four administrators, and said the meeting was not the right forum to discuss it.

“It's extremely unusual that you would talk about an investigation in an open meeting that four of my administrators had investigated thoroughly and found the investigation revealed that there was no evidence to support the claim,” he said, noting that the documents were available for the members to read for themselves at the district’s central office.

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