June 19, 2019 11:12:44 AM
Lowndes County School District School Board voted in executive session Monday night to uphold the transfers of three Caledonia High School teachers to the New Hope campus.
The teachers -- Anne Richardson, Melissa Suddith and Norma Sanders -- first appealed their transfers, which were involuntary, at the end of May. They, along with their attorney Bo Rideout, of Greenwood, pleaded with the school board during a 1-hour, 20-minute executive session last month to reverse the transfers and send them back to CHS. At that time, the board took no action, but when they took it up Monday night, Board Attorney Jeff Smith confirmed they were upheld.
Rideout declined to comment on the decision and declined to connect The Dispatch with his clients for comment. The Dispatch could not independently reach Richardson, Suddith or Sanders for comment by press time.
In addition to appealing the transfers, the teachers also filed separate complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming the transfers came after months of harassment by school administration. Rideout declined to comment on specifics of the complaint to the EEOC, but Superintendent Lynn Wright previously confirmed the issue revolved around their claims of being harassed by CHS Principal Andy Stevens and former Assistant Principal Robert Byrd.
Byrd was forced to resign on Feb. 8 for "insubordination and releasing confidential information," Smith previously told The Dispatch. By that time, Stevens had already served a five-day suspension for not properly supervising Byrd.
According to LCSD board minutes, the three teachers, then represented by attorney William Starks, appeared before trustees on Feb. 18 to request Stevens be removed from his position. Two months later, the three teachers were notified they were being transferred to New Hope. In the interim, Stevens -- who faced no further discipline -- twice reprimanded Suddith and possibly the other two teachers, as well.
Smith told The Dispatch he would not confirm or deny the transfers being related to their Feb. 18 complaint to the board.
Three of Suddith's former students, Mark McCoy, Carrlom Byrd and John Brackin, attended Monday's meeting, along with about a dozen others who came in support of the teachers. Carrlom Byrd (no relation to Robert Byrd), who invited McCoy and Brackin to the meeting, said he did so because he didn't see the benefit in transferring Richardson, Suddith and Sanders out of CHS.
"It's just kind of weird to uproot them and stick them in a foreign environment," he said. "This is their community. This is the place they work best."
Brackin said he also chose to attend because of Suddith's significant impact on his life.
"I wouldn't have graduated without her," he said. "She's one of the most dedicated teachers we have there. There are some that just do it for the paycheck, you know? But I can't remember one day she missed unless she was sick and couldn't get out of bed or something."
"Caledonia has great teachers, and (Richardson, Suddith and Sanders) are three of them," McCoy added. "We don't need anything to change."
In other business, board members debated a motion on whether to allow a citizen-organized forum for state and county candidates to be held at the New Hope High School gymnasium.
Board president Robert Barksdale said the New Hope Community Center, where the event was to be held originally, was too small for the 500 to 1,000 people event organizers anticipated attending, which is why they had requested the gymnasium. Smith said, because opening a school building for a political event was against district policy, the board would have to give a reason for the exception to that policy.
"I'm just not comfortable with that," said board member Brian Clark. "What would be our reasoning?"
"We would be accomodating something organized by the public," Barksdale replied. "There are candidates from all political parties, not just one. So it's not something I'm uncomfortable with."
When the motion came to a vote, Clark and vice president Jane Kilgore abstained. Barksdale and Jacqueline Gray voted in favor. Because there was not a majority vote, the motion did not pass.
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