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Our view: 'Hear no evil' is bad school policy




Tuesday evening, we learned what happened to Shawn Gregory, but the public may never know why it happened. 


Since New Hope High School principal Matt Smith announced last month his intention not to renew the contract of Gregory, the high school's football coach of one year, players and parents have persistently asked school officials to explain the reasons for Gregory's de facto firing. 


When the Lowndes County School Board of Trustees affirmed Smith's decision after meeting in executive session Tuesday, more than 100 players and their parents left the meeting with no more answers than they had when they arrived. 


As a result, when Gregory's departure as head coach is discussed, the reason for his dismissal will continue to be cloaked in speculation. That is unfortunate, not only for Gregory and the players and parents who supported him, but for the school board members as well. 


In fairness to the board members, it should be remembered that laws enacted to protect the privacy of employees such as Gregory impose severe limitations on what board members can say about such personnel issues. Even if the board members wanted to explain the reasons that Gregory was dismissed, they were compelled by those laws to remain silent. 


Under those circumstances, only one side of the story is presented to the public. Players and their parents are not restrained by law to remain silent.  


That said, we cannot say with any certainty that the school board was justified in its decision. We simply don't have any knowledge of the board's reasoning. 


We also note that hiding behind the laws governing privacy is sometimes a tactic employed by officials who realize that their motives and decisions would suffer in the light of public scrutiny. 


Again, we do not know which conditions should be applied in this case. We simply do not have the relevant information to present an opinion. 


What we do know of Gregory is that he appears to have had the support of a majority of the team's players and their parents. In his one season, the Trojans finished with a 4-7 record. Although the Trojans' season cannot be described as successful, the record was generally in line with expectations. New Hope was very much in a rebuilding mode when Gregory took over. 


It seems unlikely that Gregory's dismissal had much to do with his performance with the team. But there may be other factors outside of that narrow role that led to his dismissal. 


What we can clearly state in this matter is that the school board did fail in one very important area. 


Last week, Javonte Ellis, a parent of one of the players, asked to be added to Tuesday's agenda. She was denied the opportunity to address the board on behalf of the players and parents, again with the explanation that Gregory's status was a personnel issue. 


That was a mistake, and a grievous one. 


There are no laws or regulations that prevent Ellis or any other citizen from being placed on the agenda. In fact, boards regularly allot time for public input during meetings, for reasons that should be obvious. School boards generally want to create an atmosphere where stakeholders feel their voices are heard. 


So, while Gregory's dismissal may have been necessary, the board seriously undermined its position not by refusing to talk, but refusing to listen. 


Gregory may be gone, but there is likely to be some lingering ill will in the community. 


The board members made sure of that Tuesday.



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