Updates will be posted to the bottom. Last update was at 5:01 p.m.
The fifth day of the hearing resumes at 8:40 a.m.
Valerie Whitwell is on the stand. She is a parent and is president of the booster club.
She said she volunteered to become president. She said she was the only one who sought the office this year.
She is asked about Mary Thomas, who used to be secretary of the booster club. Whitwell said that Thomas quit because she was upset about money. It involved a choreographer who would be coming to town. It had been agreed that she would be driving and that was changed at the last minute to having her fly in to town. That money would come from the booster budget for choreography. Whitwell said that was the reason Thomas left. She said there had been previous meetings with Thomas expressing her frustration with the way money was being spent. After the incident involving the choreographer Thomas told Whitwell the boosters had to put a stop to spending more money.
That was an email that went out to all of us on the board. Whitwell said they tried to put it behind them by being more intentional with Ellis about the budget.
Whitwell said she told Ellis they were trying to help him, they were on his side, whatever they could do, they were willing to be flexible.
Whitwell: This was one time she was already planning to come and it was already decided so we just needed to move some money around.
Stimpson: From your testimony I gather there were financial issues from the year before.
Whitwell said they talked about finances at every meeting and made sure they were only spending what they had budged for. She said it was a general understanding that Mr. Ellis planned his show and choreography and music within a budget he was given and they went through that at the beginning of the year that beings in June. She said he was aware of the various line items.
Whitwell said the new flying expense did not exceed the budget.
Stimpson: Were there any further discussions you had with Calvin about the email to Mary Thomas?
Whitwell: I think the only time we discussed it was that Saturday.
Stimpson: In essence, you were trying to support Mr. Ellis
Whitwell said she was a member of the booster club before becoming president. The year before she was on costume committee and the year before that she was on hospitality committee.
Stimpson is asking Whitwell about the trip to the state competition in Petal.
Has the Tupelo High School show choir been invited back to the competition in Petal since then?
Whitwell said no
Stimpson asked what she had heard about why not.
Whitwell: That there was a room trashed where they were getting dressed.
Whitwell said she did not see the room being trashed.
Whitwell is asked about the previous booster president, Tracy Hudson. Stimpson asks whether Hudson had any advice for Whitwell.
Whitwell: You have to watch the money and we need to make sure we are very organized. WE don’t need to be micromanaging Mr. Ellis. He is the artistic (arm?) of the organization and we need to make sure we are staying on task.
Stimpson: Did you have any concerns about Ellis’ forthrightness?
There was an issue in July where there was a trip planned to Smith Lake, it was going to be an outing for Wave Connection. Several parents had concerns about safety issues. (We asked Ellis if it would be a school sponsored trip). Mr. Ellis said it was. We were pushed by several parents (to make sure the trip had been approved by the school. The board asked and found out it hadn’t).
The board met at Atlanta Bread on June 20, 2011.
Whitwell said there was a lot of discussion at that time, there were 11 or 12 parents at the meeting. She said there was discussion about liability and life jackets.
Stimpson: Mr Ellis indicated it had been approved by the school district?
She said after that meeting calls were made to board members about concerns, fact water was very deep, wanting to know how many chaperones were there. She said that probably five parents called her and three or four each called some of the other parents. Said the biggest concern was the safety.
Stimpson asks what she did to find out whether trip had been approved.
Whitwell said she called Lee Stratton, then THS principal. He said the trip had not been approved and he had no knowledge of the trip.
Whitwell said she also spoke with Dale Warriner because she knew her. She asked her if central office would have record of that.
Stimpson: Were you worried about safety issues at Smith Lake?
Whitwell: Me, no.
Stimpson: Other parents had expressed their concerns?
Whitwell said Warriner told her the trip had not been approved, said it took her about 30 seconds to determine that. Whitwell said she called the other board members. In the meantime, Ellis spoke with Jason Harris and told the board that the trip had been cancelled.
Stimpson asks if Whitwell spoke with Ellis about being honest with parents
Whitwell: We had multiple conversations. She said was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. She said she talked to Ellis about keeping them in the loop. She said it was general
Whitwell: I didn’t know what communication problem there had been with Mr. Ellis or Mr. Stratton on the Smith Lake issue so I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on that. Moving forward I wanted to make sure we were all clear on (What we were doing, how money was being spent, etc.)
Whitwell said the June meeting was at Peppers. The July 11 meeting was at Atlanta Bread.
Stimpson: At both meetings, Mr. Ellis talked to the group about the trip to Smith Lake?
She said it was after July meeting that she made her inquiries to administrators about whether trip was approved.
Stimpson: Was there any other trip Wave Connection took that summer?
Stimpson asks about a proposed trip to Disney World. She said she discussed with Ellis not to bring up the trip until it had been approved but that Ellis brought it up anyway, that he wanted to take a trip pending approval over Christmas holidays.
Stimpson: What were your feelings when he did announce the trip
Whitwell: He was in the charge as the director…I was willing to lean on his discretion on that, being that he was in charged.
Whitwell said she is there for having been served a subpoena and that she personally likes Ellis.
Whitwell said she attended a trip with the show choir to Alabama. She said she thought she was a district approved chaperone but found out later that she wasn’t, so she was just a parent volunteer.
The purpose of the trip was for the show choirs to compete.
Stimpson: Were there any issues with lack of supervision that came up on that trip?
Whitwell: Yes, when we were ready to leave, ….when the bus was ready to leave there was no one there for SoundWave girls to go back to Tupelo.
Whitwell said there were 15 to 20 girls and that there was no adult, no staff adult to ride the bus back with them.
Whitwell: We were trying to figure out who was riding the bus….
She said that most of the costume moms were planning to spend another night in Birmingham. One of the moms contacted Ellis and they were told Mr. Ellis had already left the competition. So another mom rode home with the students on the bus.
The girls were loading up the bus without any adult but the male bus driver and the costume moms who were not planning to go back on that bus.
The moms had a discussion and made a decision that one of the moms would ride the bus back to Tupelo. The bus came back to Tupelo without a staff member present.
Stimpson: Are you aware of school policy for supervision of students on school-sanctioned events.
Whitwell said she was not aware at the time but she is now.
Stimpson: Do you know what Debra Atkinson’s responsibility that day was?
Whitwell said her understanding that was that she would be accompanying the soloist, she accompanied the girls on the bus. Whitwell said Atkinson did not direct the Sound Wave show choir, Ellis did.
Whitwell said SoundWave performed mid morning and afterward the costume moms took the girls to lunch. She said she was not familiar with district policy about needing a staff member to be present. They went to Brookwood Mall, a couple of blocks from the school.
Stimpson: Were there any supervision issues at that time?
Whitwell: We basically let them off the bus, gave them a timeline where they could eat, they went to eat, shopped around and met back at the bus.
Stimpson: Was there any problem with loading up the bus?
Whitwell: We were reading to get back and we had a semiroster of who was there, had everyone look around. There were a couple of girls who were not back at the bus. That driveway was a one-lane one-way street. One of the moms got on the bus and three or four girls weren’t there, so Whitwell and another mom waited there for the other girls so they could bring them back by car. Those girls arrived within a minute or so and everyone made it back.
Stimpson asks Whitwell if she became aware of a copyright issue with Ellis.
Whitwell said yes. She said at September meeting Suzy Williams presented a bill to Teri Stewart about copyright. Teri said she had never seen a bill like that before and told Whitwell they need to talk about that.
Whitwell said they discussed it at the meeting, that Ellis was present at the meeting. She said Ellis said they were working to get copyright, that is was a new thing, that based on the Glee phenomenon they were really working to enforce copyright laws, that it was a new thing.
Stimpson: Do you know when Mr. Ellis first became aware that he needed copyright approval?
Whtiwell said according to an email she saw, he was aware in 2009.
Stimpson: Did he tell you how many copyright approvals he had at that point.
Whitwell: He thought he had four or five approval. Stimpson asked if that turned out to be true. Whitwell said, no, he had none.
Stimpson asks if Ellis appeared to be nervous about copyright and Whitwell said yes. She said they were on a time crunch to get the copyright for all of the music they would be performing.
Whitwell said she and Teri Stewart offered to help Ellis obtain copyright. They told him they would help him any way they could to get that expedited. They met with him on Sept. 14 and again on the following Friday in his office. They went through the list of songs to see which ones had copyright and which ones didn’t.
Stimpson: Was that when you realized that although he told you he had four or five approved, there were actually no songs approved. Whitwell said yes.
Whitwell said Ellis took her up on their offer to help. He emailed information to Teri Stewart for them to begin helping him.
Stimpson: Was there an indication that Mr. Ellis had began working on this in May or June? Whitwell said yes Stimpson asked whether Ellis was aware in May or June that he would need to get copyright permission and Whitwell said yes..
Stimpson: Did you inquire of him how much money it would cost?
Whitwell said it ranged $250 to $500 per song. 10 or 12 songs on a typical program
Stimpson: Did Mr. Ellis say what he would do if he did not get copyright approval”
Whitwell: He said he was doing the show any way.
Whitwell said parents said that wouldn’t happen because they would get copyrights and help him obtain them
Stimpson: Were you concerned Mr. Ellis would do the show any way?
Whitwell: No. Because there were too many people there that I knew that would be reported immediately.
Whitwell said executive board met to discuss the copyrights
Stimpson asks what the executive board decided to do. Whitwell said they took a vote and decided to talk to principal Jason Harris. They told him there was some discrepancy on whether they had copyright or not. They said they were close on three songs, all they needed to do was write a check. But there was some other language in those notes that indicated that Mr. Ellis had been talked to before about copyright. She said she was referring to email with Mark Greenburg saying there had been a problem in 2009-10 school year.
Whitwell is directed to an email, exhibit 9. It is from Ellis to Greenburg, dated Sept. 14.
Ellis asks Greenburg for help and advice, saying he became aware of copyright procedures at the end of the previous school year.
The email was sent at 9:01 p.m. on the night of their meeting, Sept. 14. It was sent after the meeting.
In the email Ellis asks what is the fine for performing songs without permission.
Stimpson: Did Mr. Ellis tell you he was aware of procedures of copyright law at the end of the last school year?
Whitwell said to her recollection she hadn’t had a conversation with Ellis about it before.
Stimpson: Tell me about that meeting with Mr Harris
Whitwell said they took the emails that Ellis had sent them. They had gathered that they were close to approval on three songs but because the show was so soon, they were not going to have approval in time for the show. She said Mr. Harris did not say anything indicating he was already aware of the problem.
Stimpson asked whether programs had been printed for the show yet
Whitwell said in the last five or six weeks you are doing your set and getting everything ready for the show. She said tickets hadn’t been printed but that was about the time they would be printed.
Stimpson asks Whitwell what her role was in helping Ellis gain copyrights.
Whitwell said at that point, it was more Stewart. She said Stewart was emailing different people to find out where money would need to be sent to get copyright paid for.
Stimpson: At what point did you realize show would not be going forward. Whitwell said a few days after that they knew should would be postponed.
She said Ellis asked for a meeting and that Harris said show would be postponed to give more time to get copyright. Whitwell asked him for a timeline for that and Ellis said he wasn’t sure and that it may or may not be before Christmas.
Stimpson asked if students had been rehearsing songs that did not have copyright permission and Whitwell said yes. Stimpson asked if they had copies of music that didn’t have copyright permission. Whitwell said she believed they did but she did not see their folders.
Stimpson asks about Jauna Ellis. Whitwell said Ms. Ellis had an integral role in helping the show choir. She said that Jauna did not attend booster club meetings. Stimpson asked who made the decision on purchasing costumes. Whitwell said a costume mom with Jauna.
Stimpson aksed whether Ellis contacted her after he was dismissed.
Whitwell said he contacted her that night, told her he had been put on leave and would not be able to contact anyone and asked them to keep working on obtaining copyrights.
Call came the day Ellis was put on administrative leave.
Stimpson: So he contacted you to tell you he wasn’t supposed to contact you?
Whitwell: yes (voice sounded reluctant)
Whitwell said she spoke with Tracy Hudson, that she had received a couple of phone calls about the fact Ellis had been put on leave. She called Tracy and asked if she had heard about Ellis being placed on leave and Hudson said she had. They said they shouldn’t be talking about that but should keep working on obtaining copyrights. She said Hudson indicated that other parents had also been contacted.
Stimpson: After he was terminated did you have contact with him?
Whitwell said yes. She said those conversations were about copyright and other issues.
Stimpson: Was it fair to say he was asking you status on copyright approvals?
Stimpson: Did he ever tell you he assigned the task of obtaining copyright approvals to anyone else?
Whitwell said she told Ellis she knew he had known about copyright before and there was a discrepancy about when he really knew. Whitwell said they had seen and understood Ellis knew before he told the boosters. Ellis told her he knew in June and that he was the one who told Suzy Williams that they needed copyright. Whitwell said they had words for a moment over the fact that they didn’t have copyright. She said there was some confusion over the fact that he thought he did have copyright approval on those songs.
Stimpson asks Whitwell about two issues: Ellis thought he had copyright on songs that he didn’t and that he indicated he knew about copyright at a different time than he actually did. Whitwell said that was correct.
Stimpson: Did he send an email to the parents cancelling the Wave Connection show?
Whitwell: Delaying it, postponing it, yes.
Stimpson refers Whitwell to an email.
Stimpson: What is the Glee phenomenon
Whitwell: I think Glee, I’ve never watched it, is a television show about show choir. It brought more attention to show choir programs and it was looked at more closely in terms of copyrights.
Stimpson: Do you know when it was he told you that the show was going to be postponed?
Whitwell said she did not know. She said he told her before he had snet out an email to parents about it.
Thursday Sept. 29, he sent out email show would be postponed. Next night, Sept. 30, you are hosting hair and makeup event at your home, is that correct?
Whitwell said yes.
Whitwell is given an email, exhibit 70. An email she sent to Wave Connection parents that they would be having a sleepover and they would be doing hair and makeup at her house beginning at 4:00.
Stimpson: Jauna Ellis is not an employee of the Tupelo School District, why was she planning this event.
Whitwell: This is a tradition of Wave Connection. As far as I know this is a tradition they did every year where they got together and did their hair styles for the show (discussed makeup and what would need to be purchased) and had a sleepover.
Stimpson: My question is, why is Mrs. Ellis planning this instead of Mr. Ellis. Do you know?
Whitwell reads a sentence, “Jauana said girls were free to leave any time Saturday morning.” Stimpson stops her, asks if this was an event that Jauna was overseeing. Whitwell said yes.
Stimpson asked what the boys would be doing at that time
They were going to have a team building time with Mr Ellis
Sitmpson asks whether any other chaperones would be there, with Mr. Ellis. Whitwell said she had no idea.
Whitwell said there were some conflicts with the date because it was a home football game and there was a dance that several girls wanted to attend and that she thinks there was an ACT that Saturday. Said it seemed to be the best date.
Stimpson: For Mrs. Ellis?
Stimposn asked whether it seemed to be a mandatory event, and Whitwell said yes. Whitwell said she talked to Jauna Ellis about rescheduling the event and that Mrs. Ellis said no that they would do it that day.
Stimpson: you were taking direction from Mrs. Ellis?
Whitwell said the girls came over to her house, that Mrs. Ellis was there and that she was conducting the events. She said the girls were working on their hair for the show. Someone was there showing hairstyles and makeup and how to put that on.
Stimpson: Did the girls go to Walmart that night?
Whitwell: They did
Stimpson: Did they go with Mrs. Ellis?
Whitwell: I do believe she went with them.
Stimpson, was there any feeling if you didn’t participate (you would be penalized)
Whitwell: I think it was the feeling of the students that this was a required thing they needed to attend.
Stimpson: What is your understanding of ramifications if students didn’t participate in events planned by Mr. Ellis.
Whitwell: There were a couple of parent that have brought emails between Mr Ellis and that parent that strongly encouraged them to participate and be a team player
Stimpson: Were there any emails that went further than encouraging
Whitwell: One email I saw asked directly, are you part of this team or not
Stimpson asks what time the girls went to Walmart
Whitwell said the girls came back from the football game about 9:30 p.m. and she went to bed. She said she doesn’t know for sure whether Mrs. Ellis went with the girls to Walmart . When they went, it would have been around 9:30.
Stimpson asks what they bought while they were there.
Whiwell said they went to buy shaving cream and Vaseline and different things to prank the boys cars. Toilet paper, car paint. Said there was nothing destructive and nothing sexual.
Stimpson: What did the boys do after that?
Whitwell: The boys came over after the girls had pranked their cars and the boys had used condoms and Vaseline, bananas, shaving cream, car paint to prank the girls cars
Stimpson: Was Mr Ellis with the boys
Whitwell: I was told that he was.
Stimpson: Were you ever told he wasn’t
Butts objects to Stimpson calling the event a condom prank night. He said that is not appropriate and was a prejudiced word. Stimpson said she agreed that it was not appropriate for teenagers to be pulling a prank involving condoms. Hearing officer John Compton said they could call it something else, since there was only one night in question. They could just call it prank night.
Stimpson: We are going to call the Sept 30 evening, prank night
Did you have any conversations with Mr. Ellis about that event.
Whitwell: WE generally talked that some of the boys had been called to the office to be questioned. At that point, Mr. Ellis had not been talked to at all. (Said she encouraged Ellis to talk to Jason Harris to find out what was going on. That conversation was Monday or Tuesday).
Stimpson: When you first learned what happened that night, what was your feeling?
Whitwell: This was not going to be a good thing.
At 10:00, hearing goes into closed session so student names could be discussed.
At 10:36, hearing is back in open session. David Butts is cross-examining Valerie Whitwell. He is asking her about the level of performance of the show choir over the years. Whitwell said she would consider their level to be very good. Asks about when Sound Wave made the finals and talks about how rare it was for an all-girls group to do that.
Butts: You have not problems with Mr. Ellis in his ability to direct show choirs. Whitwell said that is correct.
Butts said he understands that there were some budgeting and other issues and that he is about to talk about those.
Talking now about copyrights, that meeting on Sept. 14, 2011.
Whitwell said before that meeting she did not know about the need for copyrights, the subject was just not out there, they hadn’t talked about it.
Butts: At Sept. 14, at the board meeting, what did you learn about a quote copyright problem.
Whitwell said Teri Stewart came to her with a bill she had just received concerning copyright. Said she had never seen that before and that they needed to talk about it. It was a bill for one of Williams’ numbers for her Sound Wave show.
Butts: Were you aware that Suzy Williams was only using Steve Anderson as the arranger for all Sound Wave songs?
Butts: I don’t think we’ve seen that bill. That was a bill about a copyright, that is all your know, correct?
Butts: And Teri Stewart was concerned about it?
Whitwell said yes. She said they didn’t know about copyrights and that it was a question they needed to ask Ellis and Williams.
Whitwell said the board was at the meeting as was Ellis and Williams. When copyright was discussed, it was a general discussion among everyone. Whitwell asked if we were working toward copyright for Wave Connection and Ellis said he was. Whitwell said her concern wasn’t as much the copyright but the fee that it would cost.
Butts: That is what you are worried about all of the time, for sets, costume, travel, food, correct?
Butts: As you have said, your concern was the cost, and Mr. Ellis represented to you what about the copyright?
Whitwell: He said he was unsure, it varied in range. I said earlier it was $250 to $500. When I read this email, maybe it was $150.
Butts: You had a bill for a copyright permission on one song, and you don’t know who it was from?
Whitwell: Right, I think it was Steve Anderson. I wasn’t sure.
Butts: Was this a bill or was this a contract?
Whitwell: This was a bill that I saw. Said it looked like an invoice.
Butts: Was it from an individual or from a company.
Whitwell: I don’t recall
Butts: What I am trying to get at it this. Teri Stewart mentioned to you a problem with copyright. What did she indicate?
Whitwell: She didn’t indicate there was a problem with copyrights, she indicated this was something she hadn’t been involved for before and that this was something new we needed to discuss.
Whitwell said Stewart’s biggest concern was money. She said they discussed the copyrights for each song.
Butts: Ms. Stimpson asked you a line of questioning about Mr. Ellis not being forthright in regard to copyright. What were your concerns about him not being forthright.
Whitwell: What I didn’t think was forthright, when we decided to start helping him, we didn’t have copyright secured on any of the songs and the way it was perceived from the meeting, that this was just something new that was a Glee phenomenon, when we saw the email that he had known about copyright, we weren’t sure what was going on as a group.
Butts asks Whitwell about what a copyright permission looks like,
Whitwell said she can not read music and she is not a musical person. She said the sheet music she saw that had been copyrighted was a document from Steve Anderson that had copyright attached to the bottom.
Butts: What I am getting at is this, a copyright permission is submitted to companies like Hal Leonard and other companies. Did you know that?
Whitwell: I have some little knowledge of this, yes.
Butts: You understand that if you are looking at a sheet of music that is not a copyright permission.
Butts: When Mr. Ellis said he had copyright permission on four or five songs, was it possible that he had four or five songs cleared by the copyright holders.
Whitwell: That was not what he said at the meeting. He said there were four or five songs that we had copyright on.
Butts: But you had not paid for any copyrights. Is it your understanding that copyright is not granted until the fee had been paid.
Whitwell: I believe that is correct, yes.
Butts: Let me direct your attention to exhibit 24, in this stack. Six pages, first page carries name of Cherry Lane music company. Second paragraph says licenser hereby grants permission to Steve Anderson. Would it be your understanding that the company is granting permission to an arranger?
Butts: Look two pages over, Hal Leonard corporation. IT grants permission to Steve Anderson. So they appear to be granting permission to Steve Anderson, would that be your understanding.
Butts asks about derivative works, the fact that an arrangement by an arranger is a derivative work. Whitwell said she is not familiar with that.
Butts directs her to the first page. A notation in handwriting circled in lower right-hand corner, says mailed check. The person who would have written that would be Teri Stewart. Date is Sept. 8. Butts directs her to a check, paid by Teri Stewart on Sept. 8.
Butts said on fifth page, another check. Your board meeting was September 14, so these checks were issued a week before your board meeting.
Yet Teri Stewart said she was never seen this before.
Whitwell: This is a check for arranging music not copyright music. As far I understood it, this was two different fees….My understanding was that we had not paid to have copyright permission before until that bill was presented to me.
Butts: This is not a payment to Steve Anderson, arranger, this is a bill to Hal Leonard and Cherry Lane for copyright. Right?
Butts reads paragraph where licensor is not Cherry Lane
Stimpson: We sat through three hours or more of testimony from Mark Greenburg about copyright permission and permission to arrange and that they are not the same thing.
Butts: The claim was that Calvin Ellis was not forthright about copyright permissions. Is it possible there was a misunderstanding about what he meant by approval.
Whitwell: I guess that is possible.
Butts: The sense I am getting from your testimony is before Sept. 14, 2011, you had no knowledge about copyrights, need for copyrights for show choirs, you had never dealt with copyrights before, is that correct?
Butts: Y’all do talk with Mr. Ellis about this copyright situation, but your major concern was the additional cost?
Butts: Then after Mr. Ellis asked you to help him secure copyright permissions, you see emails that indicate Mr. Ellis had known about need to secure copyright permissions at the end of the last school year.
Whitwell: Yes and (an issue from 2009-2010)
Whitwell is directed to email from Daniel Peters at Hal Leonard to Ellis on July 13, 2011. Hal Leonard is saying they are in possession of requests from Ellis and Atkinson for requests for new copyright permissions to be arranged by Steve Anderson.
Butts the second paragraph refers to arrangements made by David Alderman for Tupelo High School. Copyright was not obtained for these songs. Peters said he sent Alderman an arrangement to get copyrights for these songs with a small fee for violating copyright. Peters said they will need this payment before considering other songs for THS.
Butts: Would you agree that nowhere in that email does that it say that Mr. Ellis violated copyright law.
Stimpson objects, saying email speaks for itself.
Butts: Ms. Whitwell testified that based on this email, she knew that Mr. Ellis had had copyright issues going back to 2009. WE have gone back to that email and I am saying does this document not say that Alderman violated copyright.
Stimpson objects, sustains.
Butts: Did you get from this document that Calvin Ellis was required to secure copyright for the two songs in this email.
Butts refers to email from Eillis to Greenburg, dated Sept. 14, the same day as meeting.. Butts said in that email, Ellis asks Greenburg for advice, said we became aware of issues of copyright law and end of previous school year and wasn’t aware that this was something every arranger must obtain.
Butts: From reading this email did you get the impression that it was Mr. Ellis who needed to obtain the copyright permission?
Butts moves to exhibit 5. He directs attention halfway down the page. Email from Alderman to Ellis. Alderman tells Ellis he got the message on the phone and that there was a mixup from Hal Leonard on Ask the Lonely. Since some time went by, he sent permission to Hal Leonard and was told they don’t handle that song any more. Alderman said he thought they were in the clear until Hal Leonard told him that he was in violation of copyright laws.
Whitwell said she doesn’t believe she had seen that email before. Said there was a pile of emails Stewart had printed and she didn’t read every document.
Butts: Do you know whether or not it is the obligation of the arranger or the performer to obtain copyright permission?
Whitwell: I do not.
Butts: Now, did the Tupelo choral booster club adopt a new set of bylaws this year?
Whitwell said they were written before she came on and adopted at her first meeting, in August. Whitwell said she didn’t have anything to do with the bylaws. She said some of them were amended and there may have been some new ones added to that.
Butts: Were there any material changes to the bylaws?
Whitwell: The copy she was given was the new set. She does not have a copy of the old set so she hadn’t looked at those.
Butts: You testified about a trip the show choirs took to Birmingham where the Sound Wave bus came back without a staff member. When was that?
Stewart: End of January or beginning of February 2011. It was at Homewood competition. Mall was about a half mile from the school.
Butts: Were you present when the Sound Wave bus went to that mall?
Whitwell said she drove over there in Kim Karen’s car.
Butts: All of Sound Wave members went on the bus.
Whitwell said most of them did, a few stayed in cafeteria. Whitwell said no Tupelo staff member was on the bus when it went to the mall. She said she knew Lee Anne Webb was an approved chaperone and she thought she was.
Whitwell said she had been fingerprinted at the high school and thought she was cleared because she had been fingerprinted and had an FBI check. She didn’t know they had to go through a separate process at the school.
Butts: So when you went to the mall, you thought you had three approved chaperones there?
Whitwell said that was correct. She said that at the same time Ellis was at the hotel preparing with Wave Connection.
Butts asks how many approved chaperones were there? Whitwell said she doesn’t know but there were a lot of parents.
Whitwell said Ellis have Lee Anne Webb permission to take the Sound Wave bus down the street to eat lunch. She said the girls could have eaten lunch at the high school because there was a cafeteria.
Butts: Why didn’t they eat there?
Whitwell: The girls wanted to go to the mall.
Butts: Once you get there, you turned the girls loose in the mall is that right?
Butts: Did you think it was appropriate to give the girls a timeline, let them get lunch and be back at the bus at a certain time?
Butts: Two or three girls didn’t make it back?
Butts: There was a problem where the bus was parked?
Whitwell: It wasn’t where the bus was parked, it was where it was to pick up the kids. It was one lane, there was a constant flow of traffic and you couldn’t block it.
Whitwell said two or three girls weren’t there but the bus had to move. Butts you decided you and Kim Karen would stay for the girls and the bus would go back with Lee Anne Webb. She said the other girls showed up shortly after that and they drove them back to Homewood high school.
Butts: Did you feel those girls were endangered or threatened in any way?
Butts: The charge against Mr. Ellis was that he had endangered students by leaving them unsupervised. Do you think that charge is true?
Whitwell: He was never on the bus so he didn’t leave the kids behind.
Butts: Those girls were not left behind at the mall, were they?
Butts: Did you think anything about that incident at the time?
Butts: You have also testified that the Sound Wave bus left and came back to Tupelo without a staff member on it. You rode with Kim Karen. Was Debra Atkinson the staff member in charge of Sound Wave.
Whitwell: She rode the bus over with the girls.
Butts: Did you expect her to ride the bus back with the girls?
Whitwell: No, because she said she was not going to be doing that when we had talked earlier in the day….She said she was staying another night in Birmingham so I made the natural assumption that she would not be on the bus.
Butts: On this trip to Birmingham, staff members were Mr. Ellis, Debra Atkinson and Ms. Bullock.
Were you concerned (Debra Atkinson wouldn’t be on the bus)?
Whitwell: Not at the time of that comment, no.
Butts: What time was Sound Wave bus about to leave?
Whitwell: It was about 9:00. There was a time issue that the bus had to be back around midnight so we didn’t have to pay for another day.
Butts: At about 9:00, where are you?
Whitwell: I was in the classroom where the girls had gotten dressed earlier in the day, cleaning up and packing up their stuff.
Butts: When di you become aware there was not a staff member aware to ride back with the girls.
Whitwell: When we were loading stuff on the bus and we noticed and Lee Anne asked.
Butts: Was there some concern there was not a staff member there.
Whitwell: Yes, it was a huge deal.
Butts: Wehre was Mr. Ellis.
Whitwell: He was not there. I was told later he was at Bufalo Wild Wings.
Butts: He was with Wave Connection?
Whitwell: As far as I knew.
Whitwell said Ellis was contacted by another mother, she doesn’t remember whom. IT was related that he was already at Bufalo Wild Wings and that Lee Anne was to ride the bus home with the girls.
Whitwell said that Webb was not concerned about it at that time.
Butts: Did you have concerns about that at that time?
Whitwell: AT the time we were having the conversation, Lee Anne said there is supposed to be a Tupelo Public Schools person on the bus with us, it shouldn’t be just a parent. (At same time, knew they needed to leave. Ms. Bullock was on Structure bus and Mr. Ellis was with Wave Connection).
Butts: In your opinion, were the girls endangered because Lee Anne was riding back with them?
Whitwell: Lee Anne was a responsible adult so I knew she could handle that but it was a violation of policy.
Butts asks whether before Whitwell became president she had been involved in discussions about various trips. He asks whether it was normal procedure for Ellis to gauge interest first.
Whitwell: I think that would be a fair statement before the trip to New York and everyone was disappointed that didn’t happen.
She said that as a board they decided it would be better to lean on the side of making sure the trip was approved first so there wouldn’t be that disappointment.
Butts asks if there is value in determining interest in a trip before going to administration?
Butts: As far as Smith Lake trip is concerned, you said you had no safety concerns?
Butts: There were several questions put to you by counsel for the administration couched in discussions you may have had with Mr. Ellis about him being forthright.
Stimpson objects about the characterization of her questions.
Butts: Do you think Calvin Ellis is a liar.
Whitwell: I think there were times when there was a little bit of discrepancy about things where we couldn’t get a clean understanding of if a communication problem existed with us or with someone else.
Butts: Have you accused him of being a liar?
Whitwell: I have never accused him of being a liar.
Butts: In these conversations with Mr. Ellis, what did you want from him?
Whitwell: A presentation of how he was going to spend the money.
Whitwell said that in budget there were some items that were subject to change but that you also had to be careful to not go way over.
Butts: You could understand he couldn’t walk into a board room and say I’m going to spend X-number of dollars on music this year?
Whitwell: We were hoping what we would see was what his plan was for spending the money in advance before spending the money.
Butts: So you would know how much money you needed to raise?
Whitwell mentioned a $3,000 bill that came in late from February, 2011. Ellis said he had lost the bill. She said when you get that, you have to find a way to get that money. There are issues you didn’t anticipate. Copyright is another one.
Butts: Impression I am getting is that none of this is written in stone, everyone is trying to do the best they can in the means they have.
Whitwell: I guess that is a fair statement.
Butts asks Whitwell if she was at Tupelo High School for laptop distribution. She said she was. She said she had a conversation with Mr. Harris at that distribution. She did not know the date she was there or whether it was before the meeting on Sept. 14.
Butts: Did you discuss copyright permissions with Mr. Harris at that time?
Whitwell: I don’t recall.
Butts finishes his cross examination.
Stimpson begins redirect.
Stimpson: Did Ellis indicate at (the Sept. 14 meeting) that there were any problems with him obtaining copyright approval?
Stimpson: Did Mr. Ellis ever inform you that you were not an approved chaperone.
Stimpson: Would it have been his responsibility to tell you whether he was approved?
Stimpson asks whether Ellis encouraged her to keep the girls at the school cafeteria or whether he had any (unease) about them going to the mall. Whitwell said no.
Stimpson: Would you expect Mr. Ellis to be honest with you?
Stimpson: Were there occasions were he was not honest with you
Stimpson: Would you agree the choral program was in disarray?
Butts objects, acts what disarray means. Overruled.
Whitwell: I think it could have been a little better organized and that is what we were trying to do as a choral board.
Stimpson asks if Whitwell would expect Ellis to spend money wisely. She said yes. Stimpson asks whether she expected him to have copyrights. Whitwell said, yes, given what she knows now.
Stimpson: Does hair and makeup night require a trip to Walmart to purchase prnaking items?
Whitwell: Not that I am aware of.
Stimpson: Who do you look to make sure copyright had been obtained?
Whitwell: We would have looked to Mr. Ellis for Wave Connection and Ms. Williams for Sound Wave.
Stimpson: When you offered to help with obtaining copyright permissions, Mr. Ellis turned over all of his emails and all of his contract relative to copyright approval?
Stimpson: In your opinion, how well organized were those documents relative to obtaining copyright approval.
Whitwell said it took him about an hour to sort through documents.
Whitwell is directed to exhibit 11. Email on Sept. 23 from Elis to Greenburg at Tresona. It ends with “I am truly in a mess.” Stimpson asked whether Ellis had turned that email over to her.
Whitwell said that was not one of the emails she looked at that day. She said she did not have any conversations with any companies regarding copyright. She said she thinks Teri Stewart had some.
Stimpson: Who do you look to be sure copyright would be obtained?
Whitwell: Mr. Ellis
Stimpson: Why did you feel the need to help him in securing that?
Whitwell” Because our show was approaching in seven weeks. We knew he had started that process in August and we were in a time crunch. He told us 30 to 90 days to obtain copyright. Because he was teaching full-time jobs, we were available to help.
Stimpson: Did Mr. Ellis tell you what was left to do to obtain copyright permission when he turned everything over to you?
Whitwell: No. We were going to organize the documents and email the companies to see where we were.
Stimpson finishes her questioning. Butts asks for permission to ask a follow-up
Butts: Ms. Whitwell, you testified you expected Mr. Ellis to spend the money allotted to him wisely?
Butts: And that you expected every committee member to spend the money entrusted to them wisely?
Whitwell is done testifying.
Hearing recesses for lunch at Noon. It will resume around 1:15.
Hearing resumes. Lee Anne Webb is the witness
Webb said she is here because she received a subpoena. She said she has a child at the high school involved in choral activities.
Stimpson: Would it be fair to say you would prefer not to be here today?
Stimpson: You like Mr. Ellis, don’t you?
Webb: I love Mr. Ellis.
Webb said she took Tracy Hudson’s place in November as a Wave Connection representative on booster club board.
Hearing resumes at 1:20 p.m. Lee Anne Webb is the witness
Webb said she is here because she received a subpoena. She said she has a child at the high school involved in choral activities.
Stimpson: Would it be fair to say you would prefer not to be here today?
Stimpson: You like Mr. Ellis, don’t you?
Webb: I love Mr. Ellis.
Webb said she took Tracy Hudson’s place in November as a Wave Connection representative on booster club. Last year she was not a representative in booster club.
She is a costume mom. She said costume mom works with Mrs. Janua Ellis. Helps get costumes together for show and competitions. Also accompany girls to their competitions.
Stimpson: Did you say you help Mrs. Ellis?
Webb: Mrs. Ellis is not a staff person. She does the costumes out of the benevolence of her heart.
Stimpson asks whether Webb had any regard with budget for costumes. Webb said that probably would have gone to Terri Stewart. Webb said as a costume mom she has nothing to do with budgeting.
Stimpson: Have you have any conversations with Mr. Ellis since the point of time he was placed on administrative leave?
Webb: Briefly I spoke with him here in December.
Stimpson: Here, meaning the hearing?
Stimpson asks about any other contact she had with Ellis after he was placed on leave.
Webb said she texted Mr. Ellis in late October on the way to a parent meeting held at the Link Centre. She said she went as a parent and that she texted MR. Ellis on the way asking for some support for the Wave Connection show that we were still trying to put on stage.
Stimpson: Did Mr. Ellis respond to your text?
Stimpson asks whether Webb had texted Ellis before he was put on administrative leave. She said she had received a text from Ellis. After he was placed on administrative leave, he needed some information for the hearing and he contacted her. Said it was after he was terminated.
Stimpson asked whether texting was a common way she communicated with Ellis?
Webb said she did text but usually she spoke with him in person.
Stimpson: Did you think it was odd when Mr. Ellis did not respond to her text.
Webb said she did not think it was odd. It was probably controversial for him to speak with her and he may have been advised by his attorney not to speak with her.
Stimpson asks whether Webb was ever instructed not to speak to Ellis.
Webb said no.
Stimpson: Did you attend the show choir trip to Birmingham, Alabama.
Webb said she did. It was the third weekend in February.
Stimpson: Were you a chaperone on that trip. Webb said she was an approved chaperone. She said the process was that she went by security office, was fingerprinted, filled out some paperwork.
Stimpson asks about the morning when the buses were loaded on that trip.
Webb said they loaded all of the girls. She was on the bus with Ms. Atkinson and the choreographer. Mr. Ellis was not there. The choreographer tried a couple of times to get him and couldn’t reach him by phone. They had to be at the school in 20 minutes so the decision was made to leave.
Stimpson: At the appointed time on the itinerary, Mr. Ellis was not present?
David Butts said he doesn’t understand this line of questioning because it does not relate to any of the charges. Compton overrules.
Stimpson: So the decision was made to go to the high school even though Mr. Ellis had not showed up.
Stimpson asks Webb about process of checking students in for the competition.
Webb said she got off the bus with Ms. Atkinson. Children followed escorts off the bus and met in the lobby. They began sign-in process. Mr. Ellis came within about 10 minutes and helped finish the process.
Stimpson: Was he late showing up?
Webb: He was behind us, he was 10 minutes behind us.
Stimpson: After Sound Wave performed that morning, were you with the girls after their performance?
Stimpson: Did Mr. Ellis come to speak with them?
Webb said Ellis left after that. She said there were performances by other schools until lunchtime. She thinks his plan was to leave with the Wave Connection kids and go back to the hotel to change.
She said that Mr. Ellis had asked them to stay and watch Wave Connection. She said they wanted to do that. It was getting to be around lunchtime and they asked Mr. Ellis if they could take the girls to Brookwood Mall, which was about a mile down the road. He gave them permission, she said.
Stimpson asks if he gave them any other instruction. Webb said they needed to be back at a certain time to get in at a reasonable time before their performance.
Stimpson: Was Dr. Atkinson with you at that point in time?
Webb said she was not. That she was playing for the solo competitions.
Stimpson: Did Mr. Ellis give you a list of girls in Sound Wave to keep track of them while you were at the mall.
Webb said she had a list.
Stimpson: Mr. Ellis did not ask you to create that list?
Webb: He asked me if I knew who was going.
Webb said that about half of the girls went with her, half of about 50.
Webb said none of the girls on Mr. Ellis’ instruction were allowed to leave the premises without him knowing it or Webb knowing it. So she made a list of the girls who wanted to go eat lunch at the mall.
Webb said she gave the girls a specific time and location to meet her.
Stimpson: Were all of the girls present?
Webb: All of the girls were present. The bus was in a two-way thoroughfare and was blocking traffic so we had to move the bus. Three girls did not get on the bus, butI had a parent behind me and she took those girls in her car.
Stimpson: What was the reason those girls did not get back on the bus.
Webb: The bus was blocking traffic and we had to move the bus.
Stimpson: Whose car did they return to the high school in?
Webb: Mrs. Valerie Whitwell
Stimpson: Was Mr. Ellis aware of the fact that three girls were riding in a private vehicle?
Stimpson: How did Wave Connection perform?
Webb: I thought they did great.
Stimpson: How did the judges determine how Wave Connection performed?
Webb:They did not place in the finals.
Stimpson: How did that affect your plans?
Webb: That meant we would be departing Homewood High School early
Webb said some girls from Sound Wave would be leaving with their parents and she had a list of the girls. Stimpson asked whether Webb was there when she kept that list of who was going with parents and who was going on the bus. Webb said no. She kept that list on her own.
Stimpson asks why Webb prepared a list.
Webb: I needed to know which children were with me and which children were leaving with their parents. I needed to know where those children were.
Stimpson: After some period of time, did you go to the bus?
Stimpson asks what time it was, Webb said it was around 9:00.
Webb said they wnet out to the bus and some girls needed to get luggage off the bus beucase they were going with parents. Some girls needed to get on the bus to come back. Also in the parking lot were buses for Structure and Wave Connection. The Sound Wave girls left over, Wave Connection, Sturcture, costume and stage crew kids came out to the busses. Ms. Bullock was there, herself, maybe five other cotume moms, but she did not see Mr. Ellis.
Stimpson: Where was he?
Webb I had someone call him to see where he was, and he was eating at a restaurant.
Stimpson: Was an inquiry made why he wasn’t with the children at that time?
Webb: I did not have that conversation.
Webb said that Ms. Bullock was the only Tupelo employee there.
Of the three buses, one bus was returning to Tupelo, two were staying in Birmingham. Sound Wave bus was returning.
Stimpson asks about any conversation they had about the return.
Webb said they couldn’t send the children home by themselves and there was no one else there to ride the bus back so she made the decision to ride the bus back. She said no one else could do it because the other moms had made plans. They left around 10. The bus driver was a male. There were about 13 girls on the bus.
Stimpson asked about what happened once the bus left. Webb said the girls were hungry and they went to Chick fil-A to eat.
Webb said Mr. Ellis did not give her any of the field trip permission forms or medical authorization forms.
Stimpson: Did a child get hurt that evening?
Stimpson: Once a child got hurt and you did not have any medical authorization forms, what did you do?
Butts makes an objection that nothing is in any of these charges about a child being hurt or Mr. Ellis not providing medical authorization forms. Even if board considers this to be relevant, how can he be prepared to examine witness on this when this is the first time he has heard this. He said it is a total surprise and he has no knowledge of any of this.
Stimpson said she is relating it to charge of general failure to supervise.
Stimpson said the witness was present during the Alabama trip. She said it relates to charge number 5, charge number 6. Compton overrules objection because it does relate to those two charges, failure to supervise.
Butts said he would like the record to reflect charge is on No. 5, specifically explains that three students were left at a mall while other students left on buses. Butts said he took that to relate to incident of three students
He said number 6 is for lack of supervision. That it says neglected students in Alabama and that students were neglected without adult supervision and were left to themselves to buy food. Butts said this is the first time he has learned that when the children left on the Sound Wave bus some child got hurt and he failed to give a medical authorization to Lee Anne Webb. We object.
The question was what did Webb do when the child got hurt.
Webb: She hit her knee. Webb said she called the parent. She got that number from the child.
Stimpson: Was there a need to get medical attention.
Webb said no. She attended to it by icing her knee. Said no other incidents occurred. Webb said the buses arrived at 1.
Webb said all of the parents were there except one. She waited with that child until the parent came about 15 minutes later. That was after the bus left.
Stimpson: Did you have any knowledge about why Dr. Atkinson was not with Sound Wave in the afternoon and evening.
Webb: Said Atkinson had told her there was a schedule change with her husband and that she had told Mr. Ellis and he had excused her.
Stimpson asks about competition at Petal two years ago. Webb said Wave Connection was in the finals but they did not win.
Stimpson asks if Webb heard anything about Tupelo High School trashing a room at Petal High School.
Webb said she heard that but she didn’t see that. She overheard a conversation of parents saying that a room had been trashed.
Stimpson: Were you present when Mr. Ellis addressed the kids after the competition was over?
Webb said she did not hear when he addressed Wave Connection.
Stimpson: Do you know what reason Mr. Ellis gave about not returning to Petal.
Webb said that she didn’t know.
Hearing goes into closed session at 2:06 p.m. to discuss a student matter.
Hearing is back in open session. Butts is cross examining Webb.
Butts is asking Webb about the trip to the mall in Homewood.
Butts: According to what information I have, I guess this is the charge, as contained in number 5. MR. Ellis is charged with failing to supervise students on a trip to Alabama. It says that “Three students were left behind at a mall when you and the rest of the students departed on the buses.” Is that true?
Webb said she did not unknowingly leave the students behind.
Butts: Mr. Ellis was not there?
Webb: No sir
Butts: The charge was that he endangered the students. Were these students endangered?
Webb: I did not think that the children were in danger.
Butts asks Webb about a conversation they had on Nov. 15 outside Lee County Justice Center. At the time Webb said she spoke with Mr. Jim Turner at Central Office that the charge was untrue. What did you tell Mr. Turner?
Webb said she gave an oral statement. She said the way it came up, she was speaking with Ms. Valerie Whitwell. She said that she had given some testimony about the bus situation coming back from Birmingham. They said they needed to make sure everyone was clear on exactly what had happened. She was not supposed to be watching blogs but her sister called and told her this charge was made. She called Ms. Whitwell and said that wasn’t correct. So she went to Central Office and spoke with Mr. Turner.
Webb said Mr. Turner strictly took her statement. He took notes on her statement.
Stimpson objects and Compton sustains. Compton said the board will rule on whether or not this charge was factual.
Butts: Were you satisfied with your meeting with Mr. turner?
Webb said he read her statement back to her and that it was correct. She said that her statement was the same as what she testified about today.
Butts: You also testified that Sound Wave bus left at 9:00. Did I hear you that Debra Atkinson was not riding the bus back?
Webb said yes.
Butts asks where Ellis was at the time. Webb said he was eating at a restaurant. Butts asks whether Ellis was with Wave Connection. Webb said no.
Butts: Where was Wave Connection?
Webb: Standing in a parking lot with me.
Butts: How did you come to ride the bus back?
Webb said she knew that no one else was available to ride the bus back. Out of the mothers with her, she was the only one who had not made plans to stay over night. She knew on her own that a parent would need to ride the bus back and that would be her.
Butts: You knew earlier in the day?
Webb: I knew that.
Butts: Was this a surprise at 9:00?
Webb: A surprise to me, no. The surprise was I went out there and did not see Mr. Ellis.
Butts: He was in a restaurant, do you know where?
Webb: Wild Buffalo Wings.
Butts: Did you talk to him? Webb no. Butts: Who talked to him?
Webb: I don’t remember, I’m sorry.
Butts: How did you get to Birmingham?
Webb: I rode with Ms. Terri Stewart in her vehicle.
Butts: Did you talk to Mr. Ellis about you riding back on the bus?
Webb: We had a discussion at some point. When, I don’t remember, but he knew I was riding the bus back….
Butts: Did this happen hours before?
Webb said she didn’t know if it was made hours earlier, but she knew it before.
Webb said Ellis did not force her to ride back. There wasn’t anyone else to ride back. She volunteered herself.
Butts: The sense I had earlier was that you were standing in the parking lot and all of a sudden it was a big surprise that you had to ride back (but it wasn’t a surprise that you had to ride the bus)
Webb: Yes. The surprise was that Mr. Ellis wasn’t there.
Butts: You expected Ellis to be there, why?
Webb: To get the kids on the bus, make sure we had everybody.
Butts: He had entrusted you before and he was entrusting you again
Butts: Tell us about the child getting hurt on the bus
Webb: She slipped and hit her knee and it swelled up.
Butts: It was nothing that required taking her to an emergency room or anything like that?
Webb: No sir.
Butts: You testified earlier that you love Mr. Ellis. Why do you love Mr. Ellis?
Webb: He is a wonderful person. He has been great to my child. I’ve had a sister and a niece involved in the program. He is an encourager who is a motivator. He gave my child an opportunity. Pushed her where maybe someone else wouldn’t have, and he has been a good personal friend.
Butts: How would you characterize his treatment of the other children?
Webb: I would say in my estimation he is mostly a fair and equitable person with the kids. He is a huge fan of the underdog. I think he gives kids who wouldn’t have opportunities otherwise, situations where they can win. He is great with the kids and they love him.
Butts: How long have you had personal contact with him?.
Webb said probably four or five years. Had a child in the program about three years. She said he is very hard working.
Butts: Tell us about Janua Ellis
Webb: I worked with Mrs. Ellis for a year and a half on costumes. She loved the children. Had great ideas for costumes and for brining that whole beautiful aspect to the costumes. She always had a diverse group (working on the costumes. She was careful to have women who were good working with the kids). She was hardworking as well and tried really hard to help Mr. Ellis realize his aspirations for his show.
Butts: Is being a costume mom a hard job?
Webb: Yes. Lot of hours. Especially as you get closer to the show, there beforehand, make sure you get everything set up for the children. Also help out with the costume kids, getting them ready to go. We go with them, have to stay with them on the road, feed them.
Butts: Would you say you admire Calvin Ellis as a person?
Butts: Do you respect him?
Webb: I think a lot of Mr Ellis
Butts: How do you think the show choirs have performed under his direction
Webb: Sometimes success is not always measured with a score or a win at competition. The only reason I say that is I grew in choral. I graduated 30 years ago from this director under a fabulous director. Success is not always measured by how you rate at the sate competition but by the influence you have on the children and how motivated they are to work for you. Taking diverse, different kinds of children who wouldn’t work together on the outside to work together as one. To me that is enormously successful as a choir director. I think the icing on the cake is when you go to competition and the hype surrounded by Tupelo about to be on stage and everyone cramming into to arena to watch Tupelo.
Webb said she is glad her child has had this opportunity and that she is sorry she didn’t get to do that this year.
Stimpson begins her redirect
Stimpson: Ms. Webb, setting aside your love and admiration of Mr. Ellis would you argree there are problems with the running of the show choir at the high school?
Webb: Specifically with evidence to my testimony there was that specific incident, the lack of supervision on the bus ride home. That would be the most glaring observation I made from last year.
Stimpson: The decision with regard to the bus stopping and where to eat, those decisions were turned over by Mr. Ellis to you?
Butts objects because she was a certified chaperone.
Stimpson: When you testified on cross examination that you were surprised that Mr. Ellis was not in the parking lot with 150 students, you were surprised because you thought he would be supervising those students?
Stimpson: And he was not there?
Webb: No he was not there.
Stimpson asks if she is aware of a school district policy relative to supervision of students
Webb said she knows there has to be staff present supervising on a field trip
Stimpson: You were aware that Mr. Ellis was violating that policy?
Stimpson asks Webb about students having to run laps about the PAC.
Webb said her daughter was one that had to do that. She said she does not know if she was being supervised at that time.
Stimpson: Are you aware of any copyright issues with regard to Mr. Ellis.
Stimpson asks about her awareness
Webb said that they did not have suitable copyright permission for the performance of their songs.
Stimpson: Are you familiar with school policy relative to supervision on field trips?
Webb: School policy is that an administrator has to be with the field trip, I don’t know how many different administrators but I know there has to be an administrator.
Stimpson: I was just wondering if you are familiar with the school policy
Webb: I know there need to be administrators and staff present on field trips. I do not know how many there need to be.
Stimpson is done with her re-direct. Webb’s testimony is complete.
Next witness will be Debra Atkinson. She will appear via online video. A computer is being moved over to the witness stand.
Dr. Debra Atkinson is sworn in.
Atkinson said she is located in Biloxi, Miss.
Atkinson said she received a subpoena to testify.
She has an attorney there with her.
Atkinson is currently working at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Jefferson Davis campus in Gulfport. She has been there since August 2011. She is director of choral activities and instructor of music. She has bachelor’s and master’s degree from Delta State and a doctorate from the University of Mississippi.
Atkinson was employed with the Tupelo School District in 2010-11. She was a choral director. She was the assistant to Mr. Ellis for the two show choirs, she directed the advanced women’s chorus she assisted varsity choir and she assisted Ms. Bullock with one group and she assisted with Madrigals. She received a supplement for helping with the show choirs.
Stimpson asks Atkinson what her responsibilities were. Atkinson said she helped select music, took role, accompanied choirs. Basically she was accompanist for varsity choir and concert singers. Sometimes she was accompanist for Madrigals. She was accompanist for two show choirs and she accompanied Ms. Bullock’s choir.
Atkinson said Ellis and her were co-directors of concert choir, varsity choir and Madrigals. She directed Advanced Women and Ms. Bullock directed freshman choir and Atkinson accompanied the two show choirs. Atkinson said she replaced Vicky Wilson at the high school.
Atkinson said before working at the high school, she knew whom Mr. Ellis was but she did not know him personally.
Stimson: When you started your employment with the district, did you meet with Mr. Ellis?
Atkinson said yes. They talked about how they would divide the choirs. Because she did not have experience with a 50-voice show choir, her pervious choir was smaller and all girls. She told Mr. Ellis she was not comfortable being director of the show choir at that time. She wanted to accompany and watch until she felt comfortable.
Stimpson asks Atkinson if she was familiar with the title or amount of Mr. Ellis’ supplement. Atkinson said no.
Stimpson asks Atkinson about her relationship with Ellis
Atkinson: Things started off very well, very amicably. We had very similar tastes in music. It appeared we would have a good working relationship.. Somewhere along the lines that relationship went south. There was no communication from about the time Sound Wave started getting prepared for their show on campus and getting ready for competition. Things started to get not so good.
Stimpson: What was the reason the relationship disintegrated?
Atkinson: I’m not really sure other than he didn’t like the way I ran some things. He said I corrected him in front of students. He said his method for dealing with something when he didn’t agree was to shut down. (We basically didn’t talk except to communicate about what we were doing in a rehearsal)
Stimpson: What was your understanding of your responsibilities?
Atkinson: I thought we would co-direct but there was not much directing that I was allowed to do.
Stimpson: Did you wind up doing what you thought to be secretarial work for Mr. Ellis?
Atkinson: I did. There was a lot of paperwork issues that needed to be done. Money needed to be taken up. Students needed to be given a folder and that needed to be taken up. Mr. Ellis did not have a free period and then he taught voice lessons (From time school was over until 9:00). He didn’t have time left over to do paperwork so I took that job on myself.
Atkinson said there ware some things Ellis asked her to do and some things she volunteered to do because they needed to be done.
Atkinson said they did not have many department meetings as a choral department. She doesn’t remember many times the three of them met together. She said there was no sharing of information within the department. She said she found things out when Ellis announced them to his show choirs during rehearsals. It was not discussed with her before it was discussed with them.
Stimpson asks about the trip to Alabama. Asks Atkinson about her responsibilities that weekend
Atkinson: The only responsibility I was given was to accompany the tow show choirs and accompany the (students who were auditioning? that weekend)
She said she asked Ellis before the trip, because he had not discussed trip plans with her at all, whether she was supposed to ride the bus back with Sound Wave or if she was supposed to stay back with Wave Connection. He said I don’t care what you do, I have plenty of chaperones, do what you want to do.
Atkinson said she discussed it with her husband. She lives in Columbus. If Wave Connection would make the finals, it would be 2 or 3 in the morning before she got to Tupelo and then would have to drive back to Columbus by herself. She didn’t think that was a wise thing to do so she decided that her husband would drop her off in Tupelo and then pick her up in Birmingham.
Atkinson said she accompanied students who auditioned for solos and then accompanied Wave Connection in the afternoon. After that performance she did not have further responsibilities that she was given.
Stimpson: Did you become aware of a supervision issue that weekend?
Atkinson: I did. I understood that some students went out on the bus at lunch and that some students may have been left and needed to find another way back to the school.
Stimpson: What was your understanding?
Atkinson: I understood that Lee Anne Webb was going to ride the bus back with Sound Wave. That she was going to ride the bus with the girls that went back.
Stimpson: Did Mr. Ellis discuss that with you?
Stimpson: How did you know that?
Atkinson: I talked to Lee Anne Webb that morning. It was my understanding that she would be riding bus to Birmingham and back. I found out I was the only adult riding the bus there. I
Atkinson said she asked Webb if she needed to make changes in her plan. She said that Webb told her that she would ride the bus back.
Stimpson: When it was time to leave the hotel for the competition, were you present with the Sound Wave girls?
Atkinson said she was and Ellis wasn’t. She said they tried to call him. They didn’t know if he had gone ahead with the equipment people or where he was. They decided to go to the school hoping he would be there when they got there.
Atkinson said Ellis was not there when she got to the school. She got off the bus with Webb and began the check in process. Mr. Ellis eventually showed up 10 or 15 minutes after they had already gotten registered and had gone to warm-up room. Atkinson said they were beginning to warm up and he came in and took over that process.
Stimpson: Did you have any discussions with him regarding chaperoning of girls home from Birmingham?
Atkinson said Ellis sent her a text on the way over asking if she was riding bus back. Atkinson said no she was going back with her husband, but she could change her plans if needed. She never received a reply. When she got to Birmingham, she spoke to Ellis and said she could change her plans and Ellis said she didn’t need to because they had enough chaperones.
Atkinson said she spoke to Lee Stratton on Monday because she talked to a personal friend of hers who said she could be in trouble for not riding the bus back. She wasn’t aware of any policy requiring her to do so. She said she wanted to tell Stratton that she did not ride the bus back and that she was not told she needed to ride the bus back.
Atkinson was in her first year in Tupelo. She had been in a college situation before that and she was not aware of all of those policies, which she said had changed quite a bit.
Atkinson said when she received her schedule the Madrigal class was on her schedule.
Stimpson asked if she ended up teaching that class
Atkinson said she co-directed it with Ellis. It was mostly her accompanying Ellis.
She said Ellis told her that he was director of choral activities and that as director of choral activities, it was his choir to direct and that it was a mistake that it was on my schedule.
Atkinson said that Stratton asked her about her duties. She told him that her schedule said she was supposed to be director of Madrigals but that wasn’t the way it ended up.
Stimpson: Were there any other issues regarding scheduling or the students assigned to your classes?
Atkinson: When I met with Mr. Ellis in July, he gave me a list of all of the choirs and the student in every choir. That list had a little over 60 women listed in advanced choir. On the first day of school, she ended up with 28 in her choir. The only explanation she got was that it probably didn’t work out in her schedule. She said that explanation came from Mr. Ellis.
Stimpson: Did you ask him what happened with the other 32 students?
Atkinson said she did not
Stimpson asks about Alabama trip. Atkinson said that Ellis had sent her an itinerary a day or two before. She said she did not have any input on the itinerary.
Stimpson: In relationship to your working relationship with Mr. Ellis, was there a period of time where Mr. Ellis did not speak with you?
Atkinson said that about November communication all but stopped between them.
Stimpson: What was conversation like if you had (concerns?)
Atkinson: That probably led to why we didn’t talk. Mr. Ellis does not like to be challenged in any way or disagreed with in any way. If you don’t agree with him, his method is to back away and stop talking.
Stimpson: Asks her about her understanding of copyright.
Atkinson said it was new to her about needing to get copyright permission for arrangements done by special arrangers for show choir. She was new to show choir and when she took over reigns and contacted an arranger to do her show, he told her she would need to get copyright permission from a publisher for him the arranger to make an arrangement of the song I chose.
In a college situation, when you are working with things that are already copyrighted, the university (handles it differently)
Atkinson said after she spoke to the arranger she told Ellis that the arranger wanted her to get permission for the songs she chose. Ellis said he had just heard the same thing. He told her about process, going to Hal Leonard website, make request and then Hal Leonard will let you know whether you get permission or not.
That conversation was in April 2011.
Stimpson asks Atkinson if she had any copyright courses in music education. Atkinson said it is discussed in one of the music education courses, where you lean about what is fair use. She learned about that in her master’s and doctoral programs.
Atkinson said she doesn’t know if there was anything that talked about arranging for a show choir but it talked about the need to secure permission to do a derivative of an arrangement or a copyrighted work.
Stimpson asked if that was covered in any workshops.
Atkinson said she did not attend any such workshops but she is sure there are workshops that were held about copyright.
Stimpson: Are you familiar with the offering of courses on not braking copyrights being held by the American Choral Directors Association.
Atkinson: I don’t think the American Choral Directors Association has it on its web site, (mentions another resource)
Stimpson asks if there are resources available if you don’t understand copyright
Atkinson said yes there are. Mentions that several textbooks explain it and said there are resources available if you don’t understand it.
Stimpson asks if Atkinson is aware of the money that goes through choral booster program?
Atkinson said every student in show choir paid $650 and every student in choir paid $30. IF you multiply $650 by $150 students, that is quite a lot of money.
Stimpson asks about the amount of money spent for lights and set for the Birmingham competition.
Atkinson said she heard a figure that it was $8,000 for lights for the Birmingham competition.
Stimpson asks if she heard any figures to compare cost to other schools.
Atkinson said some schools used computer graphics on their set but no other schools had the elaborate lighting that Tupelo used.
“They had to redo our set because it was too big and too heavy to carry.”
Stimpson: Did you think there was an excessive amount of money spent for lights and or set?
Butts objects saying that Ellis was not in charge of lights or set, he was in charge of music or choreography. Also said that there is no charge that relates to that.
Stimpson said there has been testimony of money going through choral boosters and Mr. Ellis’ oversight of that money.
Compton overrules the objection.
Court reporter re-reads question
Atkinson: I watched every group perform at that competition for the mixed group and watched most perform for the women’s division and I did not witness any with as elaborate a lighting or set as Tupelo had.
Stimpson: Did Tupelo win that competition?
Atkinson: No they did not.
Stimpson: Following the Birmingham trip and after you went to Mr. Stratton to advise him of supervision issues, did you work with Mr. Ellis on any other events?
Atkinson said two other events, honor choir trip to Jackson and state choral festival. Atkinson said she made the rooming list and the list of the buses and made sure the role was checked and that everyone was present and accounted for on those two trips.
Atkinson said she got involved on those two trips because she did not want to have herself in another precarious position of being blamed for not supervising students properly.
Stimpson: Did Mr. Ellis discuss with you possibility of taking students on a trip to New York?
Atkinson said she was told when she was hired in July that Ellis had been invited in April of 2010 to take those show choirs to New York.
Stimpson: Did you have any comment to him about that?
Atkinson: I was excited they were going to get to go to New York.
Stimpson: What about the cost, did you have a discussion about that?
Atkinson: I believe they were supposed to pay $200 a piece and both trips I took (previously with students) the students had to pay considerably more than that. He seemed to think they would have enough fund raisers and it would be no problem to get the funds raised.
Stimpson: What happened with regards to getting approval for that trip?
Atkinson: It became evident by time first payment was due that we didn’t have enough money to pay that first payment and parents were being concerned that money was not being raised way it should have. Parents were concerned they would not be able to make obligation of next payment.
Stimpson: Are you aware of existence of show choir board.
Atkinson: Yes. Mr. Ellis told me he had formed a board when he had been invited to New York to help him with the planning and the logistics of all of that,
Stimpson: Did the trip to New York occur?
Stimpson: Why Not?
Atknison: Because it became apparent that they were not going to be able to raise the funds to go, so it was decided that it needed to be cancelled.
Hearing goes into closed session at 3:50 p.m. for testimony concerning students.
Hearing is back in open session.
Atkinson is directed to an email she sent to Terri Stewart from May 23, 2011. Subject is regarding music.
Email said, “This is appalling.” It lists who arranged various songs for Sound Wave. Some of the songs were also not performed. One was copied directly from a musical score. Another was something Atkinson said Ellis had copied, another one she said probably required about an hour of work. She then listed several more songs that were not performed. Email ends, “This has got to stop now.”
Atkinson said her understanding is that the songs listed in the email were ones that Ellis had billed the boosters for arranging.
I could not understand how he could be billing them for songs that were (not used or were copied from other sources).
“I thought it was a misuse of the funds that were available for him to be paid for this.”
Atkinson said this was at the end of the school year so there was nothing she could do for the 2010-11 school year but she would do what she could in the coming year to make sure funds would not be double dipped.
She said that around that time they were working on budgets. One of the choral booster officers told her Ellis had been paid $7,400, she thinks that was the figure, for arranging for the prior year. Atkinson questioned that because she knew she did not have music in her folder he had arranged except for one piece.
Atkinson said she did not have discussions with Terri Stewart after sending that one email.
Stimpson: When was the last time you talked to Mr. Ellis?
Atkinson: Mr. Ellis called me a week ago Friday.
Stimpsn: What was the purpose of that phone call?
Atkinson: He told me he had spoken with a friend of his who teaches at another community college. Mr. Ellis’ friend had tried to question me about the Tupelo job and why I left it. I told him I needed to be back in a college situation. Mr. Ellis was calling me to thank me for not badmouthing him
Stimpson: Why did you leave your job at Tupelo High School?
Atkinson: Because when I got to the high school situation, I realized I was better suited to a college environment. I was not really comfortable with the show choir being such a huge thing in Tupelo. I felt like the choirs needed to be a bigger part. When the job came open at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College I wanted to be back in a college situation.
Stimpson asks Atkinson of a Facebook post. Atkinson said Ellis accused her of lying on her job application for Madison Central High School by saying she was co-director of choral activities. Ellis said that was a lie because he was director of choral activities.
Stimpson asks about the apology. Atkinson said that Ellis said he did not know what my contract said.
Stimpson: So when he accused you of lying he didn’t have the facts straight, is that correct?
Stimpson: Was there a point in time where Ellis was texting you every day?
Atkinson: I don’t recall that.
Stimpson: Was there anything that led up to the date you decided to quit your job at Tupelo High School?
Atkinson: No other than the fact that I felt I was better suited to a college situation. Tupelo was not where I needed to be.
Stimpson finishes her examination. Butts begins his cross.
Butts asks about a previous conversation between her and Butts. Butts tried to talk to her. Atkinson said she wanted to speak with her husband first. Butts still asked her a question.
Atkinson said Butts asked her if she recalled a trip to Birmingham. She told him her duties were to accompany the two show choirs and to play for accompanist.
Butts: What else did we discuss?
Atkinson: All we discussed was the Birmingham trip….There was one other thing I remembered. You asked me about girls being left at the mall. I said I had heard that but I was not with them. You asked why and I said I was at the school accompanying solos.
Butts said he has been uninformed and misinformed for a great portion of this proceeding.
Butts asks Atkinson relative to a note whether she is a handwriting expert (note likely came up during closed session)
Atkinson said she is not. She said it appeared to be his signature but she is not saying it was.
Butts: Did the note come into your possession or was it in someone else’s possession while you were looking at it (Atkinson answers the latter).
Atkinson said she looked at the note, read the note and saw the signature. She said she never had the note in her possession. The student was holding it up for her to read.
Butts: Ms. Atkinson, you said there was an occasion not long after you started at Tupelo High School, were you were confronted with this issue of having to obtain a copyright permission.
Atkinson said that is not correct. She did not have to start thinking about copyright permissions until she took over Sound Wave in April 2011. She left her job in May 2011.
Butts: In April 2011, you are beginning your preparations for the Sound Wave program for the coming fall, is that correct?
Butts: How did you first become of aware of the need for a copyright permission
Atkinson said she contacted an arranger and he emailed her back that she would need to secure permission from the publisher for him to arrange the song. The arranger was Steve Anderson.
Butts: You were familiar with how to do that?
Atkinson: No sir. I was not familiar with that process. I went and asked Mr. Ellis how do we go about doing the copyright. He told me the procedure was to go to the Hal Leonard web site where they had a section for requesting permission to arrange. You submit it and Hal Leonard would get back to you about what next steps would be.
Butts asks her about her earlier testimony about being knowledgeable about copyright.
Atkinson said she was knowledgeable about copy right but she had never had to arrange for a song before.
She said she had been in music education for eight years. She said in the college situation, the school pays a royalty to an organization and they pay the copyright holders the fees for performing those works. She had not had experience with asking for permission to arrange a copyrighted work.
Butts: All of your experience prior to Tupelo High School had been in a university setting?
Atkinson said she had four years at a private high school. She said she used works that had been already published.
Butts: What do you mean by a derivative work?
Atkinson: An arranged work. If you take a piece of music that has a copyright on it …and you make an arrangement just for women’s voices that is a derivative of that work. (Said that if you do that, you need to obtain copyright permission).
Discussion of Atkinson’s conversation with Ellis before the Birmingham trip about whether or not she would ride bus back from Birmingham. Atkinson said at that time she was not aware of school district policy to have a staff member ride on bus.
Butts: Didn’t the school tell you that you needed to be aware of its policies?
Atkinson: They probably did say I needed to be aware of them but if you have tried to maneuver that website and look at the myriad of policies trying to find the policies relative to your job is difficult to do. MR. Ellis was supposed to be my mentor (and if there was a policy she needed to know, she expected him to tell her)
Butts asks her whether the district had training for her concerning policies.
Atkinson said there was day before the year that mostly talked about Tupelo schools and how wonderful they are but it did not deal with anything relative to her job. “IT was a waste of my time. It was not things I needed to know to do my job.”
Butts: The tupelo Public school district gave you no formal training for policies relative to your job.
Atkinson’s attorney objects and says Birmingham trip is irrelevant. Compton said Birmingham trip is very relevant, but maybe the information about the policies is not.
Butts asks her about her conversation with Stratton. Atkinson said the reason she went was that she didn’t know about what happened on the way back from Birmingham. She was concerned that she was told other adults would be on the bus with her and she was the only adult on the bus with 50 girls. She was told that a teacher should not be alone with students and there should be other chaperones present. Because I got there and Mr. Ellis told me I did not need to ride the bus back, I felt Mr. Stratton needed to know I was told I didn’t need to ride the bus back and he needed to know my side of the story.
Atkinson said she did not know it was required for an employee of the district needed to be on the bus. She knew a chaperone needed to be on the bus but she didn’t know a school district employee needed to be on the bus.
Butts asks if she knows what action Stratton took. She said she didn’t. Also didn’t know whether Stratton ever talked to Ellis about it or disciplined Ellis for it.
Butts asks about Atkinson’s schedule being changed from 60 students to 28 students. Atkinson said she is not implying that Ellis was responsible for changing the schedule. She does not know how it was changed.
Atkinson said Anderson was the only arranger she worked with and thus the only one who spoke to her about copyright issues.
Butts asks her if she consulted any sources of information to help her deal with her Sound Wave copyright issue. Atkinson said it never got to that point because she left the school district early in the process. She did not look at any of these resources because she did not get to that point in the process.
Butts asks her about her testimony that no other group had as elaborate of lighting as Tupelo. HE asked if Attache was there. She said it was but that they did not use the elaborate lighting that Tupelo used. The used some computer graphics. She said she has not idea how much Attache spent on its computer graphics.
Butts asks about an email exhibit 71. An email from May 23. He asks what launched her into determining which songs arranged by Ellis were performed and which ones weren’t. Atkinson said she had a parent from the choral booster board trying to determine why he was paid that much money for arranging songs. Atkinson said the parent was Tammy Harrington.
Butts said from the looks of the email it looks like you spent a considerable amount of time gathering the information. Did she ask Ellis about this?
Atkinson said she did not
Butts asked if it would be fair to ask Mr. Ellis about it.
Stimpson objects. Compton overrules.
Atkinson said you are probably right. I probably should have approached him and asked him why he felt the need to charge the boosters for music he did not perform. She said their relationship was one that she did not feel comfortable doing that.
Butts: Did Terri Stewart ask you to do this?
Atkinson: Yes she did.
Butts: Did she make any other allegations against Mr. Ellis.
Atkinson said she did not. She wanted a copy of the check register because she was concerned about all of the money that had been spent. When she saw it she became concerned and asked Atkinson about Ellis being paid for songs that were not used.
Butts asks if she took her concerns to the choral booster board? Atkinson said she did not. She sent her findings to Terri Stewart and that is as far as she went.
Butts: When you put in this email that Mr. Ellis may have written some brass parts, what you are saying is that he is billing….what are you saying?
Atkinson: I mean that I had seen the book that the music was copied from and I was playing from that piece of music in my notebook. That was exactly what was copied and handed out to the students. From the book there were no brass or guitar parts. There were guitar chords. What I am saying is I don’t remember where the brass played on that arrangement, but he arranged some brass or woodwind parts for that song.
Butts: Did you ever find out why these songs that you noted, they did no do, which I take it means that the show choir did not perform, did you ever find out why they did not do them?
Atkinson said she did not.
Butts finishes. Stimpson re-directs.
Stimpson: As a new teacher to the district, did you rely on Mr. Ellis to be my mentor. She said he was assigned to her as her mentor. She said she relied him to advise her about any policies and supervision duties that would be relative to her position. She said he did not do that.
Stimpson refers her back to that email to Stewart, exhibit 71. Stimpson said that Stewart had sent her an email first and that Atkinson responded about an hour and a half later.
Stimpson: Do you have any information that Mr. Ellis sought copyright permission when he arranged music.
Atkinson said she has no information on whether she did or did not seek permission when she arranged.
Stimpson finishes her questioning. Atkinson is done.
The hearing will now recess until 8:30 on Wednesday morning.