I will add updates to the bottom. Last update was at 5:12 p.m.
Day six of the Calvin Ellis hearing has began. The hearing is now in its third different calendar month.
The first witness is in closed session. I do not know whom it is but the person is testifying via Internet video.
The hearing is about to be back in open session. The computer has been rolled back from the witness stand so that it appears whomever had just testified has completed his or her testimony entirely in closed session. Closed session is uesd when witnesses need to use the names of students.
A new witness is being sworn in.
Jenni Hilbun. Has one child in show choir. I appologize if spelling is incorrect, I will check it as soon as I can. She said that she received a subpoena to tesity.
Hilbun said she attended the Birmingham trip as a parent and not as a chaperone. She said that the reason she was not a chaperone but that Ellis informed her that she was never to be a chaperone within his program.
Lawyers are having a discussion now.
Hilbun said Mr. Ellis has previously informed her she was to appear around his program as a parent volunteer ever.
She said she was informed of that during the summer before her child’s senior year, summer of 2010. Stimpson said they will come back to that during closed session.
Her child was a member of Wave Connection at that time.
Stimpson asks Hilbun why she went to Birmingham
Hilbun: It was my feeling that the trip was very loosely supervised. Part of the reason I went was to make sure my child was tended to and was not jeopardized for her safety, make sure she has food when she needed food and make sure she was taken care of. I also wanted to see her perform.
Hilbun:”I just had trouble trusting Mr. Ellis. “ Stimpson said they will talk about that more in closed session.
Stimpson asks Hilbun about the students’ venture to the mall, and Hilbun said she can not discuss that without using student names.
Hearing goes into closed session again at 10:09 a.m.
Hearing is back in open session. Hilbun is testifying about her frustration that there was no administrator on the trip to Birmingham, a violation of district policy. She was also concerned that there was no staff member on the bus on the way back from Alabama. She said that was an unneccessary risk.
Hilbun said that she spoke with then Tupelo High principal Lee Stratton about it about a week after the trip. She also called then Superintendent Randy Shaver about it and also spoke with Billy Crews about it. Crews was then serving as the district’s chief operating officer.
She said Crews is the one who returned her call. She stated her concerns that there was no administrator in the trip, that students were left at the mall and that there was no staff member on the bus trip home.
Hilbun said that she asked whose child needed to get hurt before something was done about it. She said she didn’t speak with Ellis about a 40-minute conversation with him “where he clearly let me know he didn’t want me around.”
Hilbun is directed to exhibit 73, a show choir intent form. She said that she has seen it before. She is reading a bullet point about the total cost is $650 to be paid in full by Aug. 31. It says students that don’t meet that commitment will be dismissed from the group. The second page is a show choir policy agreement indicating that you’ve read and agree with the show choir intent form.
Hearing takes a break. When it opens back up, Butts will begin his cross examination in closed session.
Hilbun just finished her testimony. The hearing is in another break.
Hearing resumed around 11:20. District calls Calvin Ellis as a witness.
Ellis said he was director of choral acitivities and show choir director. His contract said choral director and his supplement said that he was over show choir.
He said he was over Wave Connection, Sound Wave, varsity choir (and another group) for the 2010-11 school year. He also led Madrigals that year.
He said he was not in charge of Sound Wave for the 11-12 school year.
Keith asks about Alabama trip. Ellis said he did not have an administrator accompanying him on the trip.
Keith asks Ellis about Atkinson not coming back to Tupelo with the show choir.
Ellis said he did not know that Atkinson was not coming back to Tupelo.
Ellis: “It has been the practice for all of the directors to go down to the competition together. There have been many competitions prior to me coming to Tupelo where one of directors, their spouse would come to the competition and stay the night, and the students would come back with a chaperone”.
Keith: Debra Atkinson met with you on the Tuesday before to determine the responsibilities for someone coming back to ride with Sound Wave. You told her you would not be requiring her to do that.
Ellis said the conversation was not her ride home. It was about her duties while she was there.
Ellis: “I said you were going to be with Sound Wave and monitor Sound Wave. At that time I thought we would be in finals” (And she would accompany Wave Connection) Ellis said he did not know anything then about Atkinson riding with her husband.
Ellis said the conversation about the bus ride home happened in Birmginahm. He said he released her because she had made those plans (with her husband). He said she could ride home with her husband because he knew there was a chaperone, he discussed with Lee Anne that she would be riding with the students. Baseed on his past expereicne he thought that would be OK (Because chaperones had rode on the bus back with students before).
Ellis: “I do remember telling Ms. Atkinson you could keep the plans you had made and Lee Anne and I would work it out.
Keith: But Ms. Atkinson told you then that she could change her plans.
Ellis: Out of the kindness of my heart I told her she could go ahead with her plans.
Keith: You had responsibility to those girls and you turned over responsibility to a parent.
Ellis said yes, a parent he could trust.
Butts objects, noting that Webb wasn’t just a parent volunteer but was an approved chapperone.
Keith: Webb is a chapperone but you have no authority to turn over supervisory responsibilities to her.
Ellis said he realizes that now but at the time he did not know he didnt have that authority.
Keith asks Ellis about him not being present when the buses were being loaded for the return from Birmingham.
Ellis said he was present. Ellis said you have to understand the scope of what is going on. He is in different places when stuff is happening, that is why there are chaperones there.
Keith asked about testimony that said Ellis was at Buffalo Wild Wings when buses were loaded.
Ellis said he traveled to Buffalo Wild Wings with the Wave Connection.
Keith refers to Webb’s testimony that Ellis was at the restaurant at the time. Ellis said Webb was mistaken on that point. Ellis said the three buses were not together. The Wave Connection bus was in a different place than the Sound Wave and Structure buses. He gave the responsibility to Lee Anne Webb to be with those buses as they loaded.
Keith asks about the permission forms and medical forms. Ellis said that before he left he asked Atkinson to pull out the Sound Wave forms and he left that responsibility to her. “If she needed to give that to Lee Anne Webb, I would expect her to do that.”
Keith: You left the responsibility to Ms. Atkinson who would not be on bus without any follow up on your point?”
Ellis: I am sorry. I am not perfect. That day was hectic. I did not follow up to make sure she received those forms.
Ellis said he did know Sound Wave bus got off fine. He called Webb to check. Structure bus was left because there are so many groups that it takes a large amount of time to get all of the kids off. The Wave Connection kids were hungry and Ms. Bullock was with Structure and sound crew so Wave Connection and Ellis went to Buffalo Wild Wings. They brought food back to the hotel (I didn’t catch whom the food was for. I think Ellis meant that it was for the Structure and sound crew kids)
Ellis said Ms. Bullock was with Structure and Sound Crew
Keith is asking about the trip to the mall. Ellis said it was on the itinerary for the students to eat at the school in the cafeteria.
Ellis: When Lee Anne asked me if they could take kids to the mall, I said sure. They could eat here (at the school) that is where they are supposed to eat, but a lot of kids said they didn’t like the food there and Lee Anne was a trustworthy parent so I let her go.
Ellis said he first found out about the incident at the mall when he got his termination letter.
Keith: You never found out about any supervision issues that came up on that trip? You heard Ms. Hilbun testify that she saw Mr. Stratton and Dr. Shaver and she got a call from Billy Crews. Are you telling me that no one in administration talked to you about it?
Ellis: The only issue discussed with me was that there was no teacher on (the bus ride home). Said there was no discussion about anything at the mall. Lee Stratton talked to him about it the following week (following their return). That was when he found out that it was against policy (that no staff member was on the bus ride back).
Hearing goes into closed session at 11:40 for discussion of student issues.
Hearing breaks for lunch. It will resume at 1:15 p.m., but it will still be in closed session when it resumes.
Hearing is back in open session at 1:23 p.m. It remained in closed session for about eight minutes following lunch.
Keith: Mr. Ellis, you testified before lunch that the first time you ahd heard about the mall incident was when you got your termination letter, only thing you had known about supervision issues was about there being no staff member on the bus (Back to Tupelo).
Keith hands Ellis a two-page document, exhibit 74.
It is an email between Ellis and Lee Stratton. March 28, 2011, 5:44 p.m. Directed to Lee Stratton and signed by Calvin.
Keith: First sentence said I am wanting to email parents to mention proper protocol for supervision. It said accusations about the mall have gotten me (unsettled?)
Keith: That you
Ellis: Not exactly. That was not the only mall that was visited. When we went to Birmingham we went to, I forgot the name of the mall, it was the large one where the Cheesecake factory. That was the only mall I went to.. When Mr. Stratton came to me (and talked about accusations of not supervising at the mall, I thought he meant that one. Ellis said he did not now Stratton was referring to the incident involving the Sound Wave girls).
Keith: Did Mr. Stratton mention to you that he was talking about anything other than the mall that the Sound Wave girls visited.
Ellis: He just said they were unsupervised at the mall. Ellis said he thought they meant the other mall not the one with Sound Wave.
Keith: Someone had told you about supervision issue at the mall. Who called you and told you about the fact there was a mall supervision issue?
Ellis: I don’t remember.
Keith: Let’s go to next page. Do you recognize that document?
Ellis said it is the letter that was given to him about the knowledge of that trip.
Keith refers to last graph saying that a school member must always be present. Further incidents of that could result in more serious action being taken.
Keith asks Ellis if he knew then about the need for staff members to be present.
Ellis said as of March 31, yes. “I want it to be known that prior to that date, where he was talking about a school official being on the bus, I would like it to be stated for the record that in many of the field trips that choir participates in and many other groups participate in there has been no proper training for me to know this or anyone else to know there. There was never any training that I was sat down and given field trip policy. At no point on the form we are given to fill out does it state that we are to have an administrator go on the trip or have all staff members. Administrators never went on any trips before I became directors. There have been plenty of examples when we went to Petal where my supervisor would stay overnight with her husband and we sent the girls back on the bus. If I was given any opportunity to implement this I would have done that.
Ellis also said he did not know about the incident involving the Sound Wave girls at the mall in Alabama until his termination.
Keith: Mr. Ellis are you testifying that even though you have taken students on many out of town field trips, you have never read the board policy on out of town field trips?
Keith: You expect someone to feed it to you?
Ellis: I know I am a teacher and I have responsibility. When I came coming to a job where the program is (so large). I was hired as assistant director. The new teacher meetings are to get excited about Tupelo but they don’t explain to you what you need to know for your particular job.
Keith: Mr. Ellis you are not a new teacher, are you?
Ellis: I have been in this district many years.
Ellis said he has not read the full policy on taking field trips.
Keith: What part did you read?
Ellis: After all of this occurred with MR. Stratton I think I have seen one part. I went back to check what the policy actually stated. I saw about the administrator for over night trips. I don’t remember everything else that was talked about
Keith: (After talking to Mr. Stratton) you went and read parts of the policy.
Ellis said he doesn’t remember going to the website.
Keith, as of that date in March, you knew of the policy. Ellis said yes.
Ellis is given several documents. Keith said they pertain to a trip the group was going to make to New York in 2010. The second page is an excursion request form. Keith said it talks about who is requesting it, the dates, the number of chaperones, staff chaperones, administrators.
Keith: Were you aware when that trip was being planned there needed to be a certain number of staff persons and administrators?
Ellis: I didn’t know anything about administrators. I knew from my example there needed to be a certain number of staff members.
Keith refers to where Ellis wrote for number of administrators, “1 hopefully.”
Keith is referring to an email Ellis sent to Dr. Fred Hill on assistant superintendent. It indicates that the trip had been cancelled.
Keith refers Ellis to a January email that notifies parents that the trip had been cancelled.
Keith asked if Ellis continued to fund raise after the trip had been cancelled. Ellis said he did.
Keith is there any reason why you waited until January to inform parents the trip had been cancelled?
Ellis: When we decided we did not have the money to take the trip, I informed the trip company that we were not able to attend for money reasons. Said that trip company was going to offer to assist Ellis to find ways to make it cheaper for the students.
“So I continued with the fund raising efforts because they had already been scheduled and I wanted to see how they were going to help us and I wanted to go back to Mr. Stratton to see if we could go now that it was cheaper.”
Keith said he didn’t inform the advisory board or Dr. Hill. Ellis said the day he emailed Hill was the day after the advisory board told him that they couldn’t go. He spoke later to the trip company and found out there was still a chance to go. He spoke to board member Tracy Hudson about it.
Keith said that Hudson was just one board member and that the rest of the board and the Tupelo administration did not know about Ellis’ efforts to continue.
This trip was going to be an amazing experience for these students. I wanted to do everything I could to make sure their whole year would not be crushed. That is why I went to this person. I wanted to get all of the information so I could present it to the board so they could make this decision with me. I wasn’t trying to be sneaky. Then I went to Mr. Stratton and he said we were not going to revisit that.
Keith asks if Ellis continued to work toward the trip without alerting his board.
Ellis: I am the artistic director. I need to oversee a lot of things. I wanted to be able to come back and say we decided we didn’t have the money this may help us. I’m sorry I didn’t go back to the board but I was highly frustrated with some members of the board. It seemed like every time we had a board meeting, it seemed like the trip costs were increasing. These were unnecessary expenses they kept adding on. I felt like there were a group of parents that did not want the trip to happen and a group that wanted the trip to happen….There was some frustration with the board because I felt like some members of the board didn’t want it to happen because they were adding on these frivolous things we didn’t really need.
Keith: Mr. Ellis this was the board you had put together to watch the expenditures of the show choir because of the problems the year before, you handpicked the people on the board. Now you are saying you had problems with that board.
Ellis: I did have problems with that board.
Keith: Which members did you have ill feelings toward.
Ellis: I didn’t have ill feelings. I felt like Louis Holmes was getting a lot of pressure from parents in the community. I felt like he was siding toward pressure he was getting from other parents and not looking objectively to the actual cost of the trip. I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. I felt like it kept adding up. It seemed like it wasn’t necessarily right.
Keith: Any other board members who felt the same way?
Ellis said Terri Stewart. HE said there were other board members who didn’t feel like it was a good decision to go financially but even those members were like why are we continuing to add on to the cost.
Ellis said there were eight members on the board. Said he didn’t know what the vote was to cancel the trip.
Keith asked Ellis about him leaving immediately after the vote. Ellis said he did so because he was in rehearsal. “I was disappointed. I wanted the trips to go on the trip. I wanted them to experience the opportunity. I was upset but I was mad and didn’t throw anything.”
Keith asks Ellis about the Petal incident he asks Ellis if it was true that Tupelo never went back to Petal. Ellis said it is not a fair statement because he never wanted to return to Petal.
Keith asks Ellis to explain the competition
Ellis said it is a show choir competition with groups from throughout the state and region. There are preliminaries and finals.
Ellis said his first year they did not go to Petal. His second and third year they did.
Keith: The third year was where you were approached by the principal there. He told you he had gotten some complaints about the behavior of your students. Ellis said he did recall that.
Keith: You recall that he was pretty upset about it.?
Ellis : I wouldn’t say he was upset. I would say he was concerned.
Ellis said he told the principal he would get to the bottom of it. He went to the room. He said in these competitions you get there at 7 in the morning and stay until midnight. They put you in this homeroom and you are there all day. There were guys laying on the floor and Ellis asked them what was going on and said he had heard form the principal. He said all of the guys said they weren’t doing anything inappropriate or undressing in front of girls. They did say a parent from Petal was being rude to them.
Ellis said that in these hallways there were two parents. In the Tupelo hallway, all of the parents from Petal were sitting near the Tupelo door. The students said they were being rude and they were letting other schools go by with water. Those parents from Petal did not like Tupelo. Tupelo is a rival for a lot of places and in show choir it was the same thing. I witnessed those parents being biased to our kids.
Ellis: I said guys you will not disrespect adults, you will not trash this room. I didn’t think the room was trashed. WE had guys and girls there all day with all of their stuff there. IT wasn’t clean but you have parents there to pick it up. It is not a trash room.
Keith: Did you say Petal was just jealous of your performance?
Ellis: I don’t remember saying Petal was jealous but I did notice a lot of animosity toward Tupelo. A lot of people like to watch Tupelo but there are rivals. It is part of the game. It is competition.
Keith asks if Ellis ever had a conversation with an administrator about that. Ellis said no. He said at the time Mr. Stratton was not the principal, Glenda Scott was. He said there were some issues going on. He did not inform any one or an assistant principal.
He said he did tell someone at Petal that people were being rude to his kids and he asked that person to pass it on to the Petal principal.
Keith: You did not think it was appropriate to tell an administrator (about your conversation with the principal)
Ellis said no, he did not think it was a big deal.
Keith asks if the Petal competition was the only state-wide competition. Ellis said there is also one in Ellisville.
Keith said that the year of the incident Tupelo finished second in close scoring. Ellis said yes. Keith asked if that Ellis did not share the scores with his kids. Ellis said he absolutely did share the results.
Ellis said they had a great year and a great show and that the kids were not upset by the scores.
Keith: Did you show the kids the scores after the Birmingham competition. Ellis said he doesn’t remember.
Butts objects saying it is irrelevant whether he was showing the scores.
Keith: Honesty, forthrightness, credibility are very important issues in this hearing. Keith said that earlier testimony said Ellis didn’t show the scores and Ellis had testified that it was something he always did. Compton allows it.
Keith is now asking about the Smith Lake field trip, a board meeting to discuss the trip. Meeting was held in June at Peppers. Keith said Ellis did not seek approval for the trip until July.
Ellis said they were in between principals. “Despite what Ms. Whitwell said yesterday, I had talked to Mr. Stratton in May about a parent wanting to take students to Smith Lake. She said it would be safe. It was not my idea, it was an idea by the parent. At first I had the idea to have cars go down and it being a booster sponsored trip, but I thought it would be a good idea since we would be rehearsing that day for us to all go down on the Golden Wave buses.”
He said he talked to Mr. Stratton and he said it was a good idea, just fill out the form. Ellis called Dr. Hill to check on the status and was told that he didn’t have proper form. Ellis asked if he should wait to resubmit it because they didn’t have a principal. He said he waited to submit it in July after Mr. Harris was assigned.
Keith refers Ellis to two emails. One was an email on July 11 between Ellis and Jason Harris that they would discuss approval of the trip. Another was an email from parents about the trip.
Keith asked whether Ellis told the parents in June that it was an approved trip. Ellis said he did so because Mr. Stratton had said it would be a good idea.
Keith: Mr Harris told you he had a lot of problems with Smith Lake because of the dangers and he told you to seek another forum?
Ellis said yes.
Keith: You went back and said the parents want me to clarify whether it makes any difference if it is a booster club event or school event. Ellis said he remembers that. Keith said is that because you did not accept his first answer and put it in terms of the parents wanting that. Ellis said the parents had come up with the idea and they wanted it to happen and he wanted it to happen. He didn’t mean to be insubordinate.
Keith: He told you the first time that he did not like the venue and to pick something else? Ellis said correct.
Keith: Why didn’t you tell the parents to pick something else?
Ellis said it wasn’t clear that he absolutely wasn’t going to let this happen. He wanted to make sure if there was any way he would approve this trip, if they would sign waivers clearing the school district of liability, would he allow it to happen? I just wanted to make sure. He said no, and that was the end of it..
Keith directs him to an exhibit 66.
It is an email from Ellis to Harris on July 12. One paragraph said he spoke to parents about need to move the trip. ….Ellis said in email that parents wanted to know if they could hold the event at Smith Lake as a parent-sponsored event.
Harris replied to the email that he will again say he will not approve field trip to Smith Lake. It is not against the trip it is against the venue.
Keith: There was nothing unequivocal about his statement?
Ellis: There was not, but (the parents wanted him to ask, so he did).
Keith asked Ellis’ next request, for an overnight activity at the PAC.
Keith: The first page is an email from Ellis to Harris on July 18. It asked if group could remain in PAC and have its retreat over night in the PAC. It said parents would be in and out and that kids would not be able to leave the PAC after sunset. It said kids would not be allowed to sleep there and would be kept up all night.
Harris responded that they could have a day retreat but that he was not comfortable with an over night retreat.
Ellis responded that a day retreat would not be effective.
Keith asks about Ellis disagreeing with Harris.
Ellis said he asked him….every year for many years we have tried to put together events that build camaraderie. This was an idea, and I wanted the retreat idea to be different than what they normally practice every single day. I wasn’t trying to say no, I just told him I didn’t think it would be effective. I also told him we would keep looking for an alternate venue. I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Ellis is referred to another exhibit.
Ellis said it was the first event he was able to get going. It involved going to Mt. Fuji. It was a letter on Sept. 18 sent to parents of kids in the program. It said it would be first Wave Connection outing of the year. They would attend a performance; have dinner prior to the event and eat afterward.
Keith: This particular event, you did expect your students to attend?
Ellis: That can be answered not yes or no. Every event I plan I hope every child would make an effort to attend because it is difficult to build camaraderie without everyone.
Ellis said he is flexible. He said if students aren’t able to afford, they could come see him and he would help them. He knew football players couldn’t make it. But he does expect everyone to make an effort.
Keith: Your students knew they were expected to come unless they had a legitimate excuse.
Ellis said that is correct.
Keith asked about him not getting permission for the district. Ellis said he didn’t think it was required. They have cast parties without getting permission. He said many athletic teams go to dinner together. Such events are common, he said.
Keith asks if he considered it a booster club event. Ellis said he considered it a social event.
Ellis said he and his wife were the only adults with 35 to 40 students. He said there were a significant number who did not attend but most of them informed him, expect one or two. He said that he and his wife purchase happies for the students so he wanted to have an idea of who was attending.
Keith asks for a closed session because his next question would involve students. Hearing is now closed at 2:29 p.m.
Hearing is back in open session.
Ellis is referred to a document.
Keith asks about the sleepover for the Wave Connection girls at the Whitwell home on Sept. 30.
Keith: You did expect the kids to show up for this over night event?
Ellis: I expected the girls to be there because it was a tradition that we had always done. They needed to know how to do their hair and what their makeup is. I would expect everyone to make an effort to attend.
Keith asked if event had not been cancelled even though show had been cancelled night before.
Ellis said that is correct. He thought there would still be a show and the kids would need to know how to do their hair and makeup.
Ellis said his wife was in charge of planning the event. It was at the Whitwell home and there were no school officials there.
Keith asked if girls left Whitwell home to go to Walmart to buy items to prank boys cars. Ellis said yes, said his wife was with them. Said it was around 9 or 9:30.
Ellis: I didn’t know they had gone to Walmart. I knew my wife had spoken to me about the girls possibly pranking them. I thought it was fun. No, I didn’t specifically know they were going to Walmart.
Keith asked when Ellis specifically had conversation about girls pranking the boys.
Ellis said he and some students went to a performance at the Link Centre earlier in the afternoon. He said he thinks she may have told him then.
Ellis said that event was not required.
Keith: When you had that conversation about girls pranking the boys did you understand that would involve them coming to your house and pranking the boys?
Ellis said yes. He said he did not get any permissions from the parents for the girls to leave the Whitwell home and come to his house.
Ellis said it was not a required event for the boys to come to his house. It was impromptu. When the guys heard the girls were having Hair and Makeup night, they wanted to do something. It was late and late to get a parent. He said the guys would just be eating pizza and drinking cokes so he thought it would be OK. He asked every one of the guys when they arrived if it was OK and they showed him text messages from parents saying it was.
Ellis said there was no intention for boys to spend the night
Ellis said after the boys had their cars pranked they were in a vindictive state.
I was trying to get them to calm down. It was highly intense.
They weren’t upset, they were taken aback that the girls go them because they were watching for them. The first time they caught the girls trying to do it. The second time we were having a good conversation (And they were surprised)
Keith asked about the conversation about how they were going to get the girls back. Ellis said there was so much noise he didn’t hear any specific plans.
On the way to Walmart, he heard them talk about specific materials Vaseline, shaving cream, condoms, bananas and car paint.
Ellis said three or four cars of boys went to Walmart. He was in one of the boys’ cars. No adults were in the other cars.
Ellis: In the discussion in the car on the way, when they were talking about numerous things. Condoms specifically was mentioned. I did specifically say, I do not think that is a good idea and I really don’t think you should do that.
Keith: Did you tell the other cars that?
Ellis: No, I did not. I did not have that opportunity.
Keith asks Ellis if he was the only adult in supervision of the boys. Ellis said yes.
Ellis said there was a brief 35 to 40 seconds when he sat in the car (when they got to Walmart)
Ellis: My state of mind in going to Walmart with them, in hindsight I wish this whole thing never hapepned. My reason in going was their parents knew they were going to be there until midnight. This was before midnight (11:15 maybe 11:30). My state of mind was I want to go because what if I send them out in the community and something did happen and the parents think they are at my house. I was toying with whether or not I should go but I did go. When I got there I was toying with whether I should go in or not but here I am with teenage kids. Then I thought what if someone walks in and sees me in a students’ car. I was feeling uncomfortable. But I wanted them to go and I wanted them to have fun. (Said they were having a fun night, sitting around and talking, talking about guy things, talking about girls)
I wanted the night to be what it was designed to be to build them up. I am highly intense with them at practice and expecting a lot from them in practice. They never get to have a good time in practice, getting to know each other and have fun. That is what the night was designed for.
I decided to get out of the car, but I decided to go in and look at the magazines, that is what I did.
Ellis said he did not have any parent permissions for the boys to leave his house and go to Walmart but he did have permission to have them at his house.
Ellis said he walked in in close proximity to the boys.
Keith: When you talked to Mr. Harris about the event, you told him you stayed in the car?
Ellis: That is not what I told Mr. Harris. That is not what I told Mr. Meadows.
Keith: Did you tell Valerie Whitwell, you told her you stayed in the car?
Ellis: I did not tell her that.
Keith said you told Mr. Meadows about this thought process you had, but you didn’t tell that to Mr. Harris did you?
Ellis said he did.
Keith: You went to the magazine rack. In light of the fact that the boys talked about buying condoms you didn’t think it was necessary to make sure they didn’t buy condoms.
MR Keith I thought the kids understood that I did not want them to buy condoms. In hindsight, yes I wish I had supervised everything they had done.
Ellis said he did not look at items they were purchasing or purchase any items. He was just trying to hurry it up so they could get back home.
Ellis said he never inquired what the boys bought.
Ellis said he rode with the boys in the same car he went to Walmart in. They parked in the Bell Aire parking lot. Then they got back in the cars. He sat in the car while they performed the prank.
Ellis said the parking lot was at a golf course near the Whitwell home. They parked there while they were waiting for everyone else. There was discussion on how they were going to hide but not about anything else.
Ellis said that in that parking lot some of the boys got out of the car and he did too. Some thought they should walk to the house from there and some thought they should drive closer to the house. One or two cars drove closer and some decided to walk from there.
Ellis said the car he was in stayed there and he jumped into another car because he did not want to walk that far. He went to the top of the hill with the car that wanted to drive closer.
The car went to the top of the hill about 150 feet from the Whitwell home.
Ellis said he did not get out of the car, at first. He sat in the car. He did see a vehicle zoom by him and he got a little concerned. He waited a little bit because he didn’t know what it was about. His wife called him and said to come down because the girls were laughing and having a good time.
Keith: By this time it is after midnight?
Ellis said he wasn’t really sure because he wasn’t watching the night. HE thinks it was around midnight….I’m sure it was after midnight.
Keith: At that time, you didn’t have any permissions from the parents to be out after midnight
Keith: How long did you stay at the Whitwell home
Ellis: Maybe five to 10 minutes and the kids were having a blast, joking and having a good time. I went and say my wife and gave her a kiss goodnight and went home.
Ellis said he rode back in the car he was sitting in. He said some of the cars went home, some went back to his house to retrieve some things and then went home. He said it was 12:30 or 12:40 when they got to his house.
Keith asked if Ellis had heard any concerns about the event immediately afterward. Ellis said no concerns just praises. He said one parent said her son had a great night and thanked him for opening it up.
Keith: When did you find out what items the boys had purchased?
Ellis: I found out when I went down the hill and saw the prank.
Keith: What discussion did you have with the kids regarding your initial discussion not to buy condoms.
Ellis: It was a large area. When I saw condoms I spoke to two of the students and said I thought y’all weren’t going to buy this stuff. There were some girls there and they were trying to diminish that. I told them it wasn’t a good idea.
Ellis said about 8 boys were there and 10-15 girls.
Keith: When did you hear there was an investigation going on regarding those events?
Ellis heard on Tuesday afternoon. A student who had been interrogated came into his office flustered. Said I didn’t know what is going on but something isn’t right they called me into the office about Friday night.
Ellis Because everyone was having a good time except one student I had to ask what happened on Friday night. Everyone was laughing and smiling and having a good time.
Keith: On Monday morning, you saw no reason to report this event to your principal.
Ellis said no.
I saw there was a problem. In the grand scope of it, Mr. Keith, I wish I could have changed a lot of things if I knew it would end up like this. In the grand scheme of things I knew the intent of those boys was to do whatever they could to get the girls back in the most funny or gross way they could. I knew their intent was not to do anything sexual to make the girls feel violated or harmed any way. I told them I wish ya’ll hadn’t done that.
I learned from it. I would never do something like that again. I would be supervisory over every single detail. I didn’t think it was a big deal to report those guys because I knew what their intent was.
Keith: Until Tuesday you saw no problem with this event or your involvement with it?…
Ellis: No because other than the fact that my conscience was toiling with me as I was participating in riding to Walmart with them. My conscience was going. I did not feel totally free like I was doing the best thing possible. I just didn’t feel at the time it was such a horrible thing. The guys were trying to have a little bit of fund and that is what the night was designed for. I was torn. I sided with the kids and their fun and their enjoyment instead of the other side saying I am a teacher in the district and I shouldn’t be doing it.
Before it was reported I didn’t see a big problem because of the simple fact that all of those kids were laughing and having a good time.
Keith: Would you agree with me that was a tremendously risky event that took place that night?
Butts argues about the use of the term risky
Keith: Some adults left your house without parental consent…..you don’t think there
Ellis: Yes, I think there were risks involved and that is what I have said repeatedly that my conscience was toiling with me. That was the first time in my 10 year teaching career that I had ever done anything like that. I wish I had not done that. The only thing I do not regret is that that night is what it was designed to be, it was fun for those kids.
Keith: If your conscience was bothering you, why did you not report it to your principal?
Ellis: Because those kids had a good time and I didn’t think there would be an issue with any of it because I didn’t witness any specific kids being upset. I later found out that one kid was upset but I struggle with her intent in being upset. If we want to talk more about that, we would need to go into closed session, and I feel like we should.
Hearing goes into closed session at 3:33 p.m.
Hearing is back in open session.
Keith: Mr. Ellis, you said you didn’t report this to Mr. Harris because you really didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Is that correct? Ellis said yes.
Keith directs Ellis to document notifying Ellis he is being placed on paid administrative leave.
Ellis said he didn’t know exactly what they were talking about. He knew of the investigation being conducted. He knew what he had spoken to Mr. Harris about. When this letter was given to me, I asked Mr. Harris and Mr. Turner, What in God’s name have I done? Those were my exact words. They told me we can not tell you at this time but you will find out eventually.
Keith asks if Ellis disagrees with Jason Harris’ statement that it was clear to him that the investigation involved the events on Sept. 30.
Ellis said he completely disagrees with that statement. He knew there was an investigation but didn’t know what the specific allegation was.
Ellis met with Harris
Ellis said he didn’t know the specific allegation. He didn’t know if someone had said he had done something inappropriate with a student. He just knew there was inappropriate behavior. He didn’t know if he had done anything with a student that warranted him being placed on leave.
Keith: You were aware because you had to talked to students about what they were being asked.
Ellis: I knew I had talked to a student about being investigated (but said he didn’t know what was asked)
I was wanting something specific on the complaint. I didn’t know what all of the facts were, I just wanted to know what the complaint was, what had been said that I had done. That is what I wanted and that was not explained to me.
Keith: You met with Mr. Meadows on Oct. 13 for four hours. The next day you sent him an email for allowing you to explain all of the issues you needed to explain. Keith said Ellis spoke from a document provided by Butts and that he covered everything in that document. Mr. Meadows told you that based on the conversation, he told you he would need to do additional investigating.
Ellis said the only thing he knew was that there were investigations going on. He didn’t know the extent of what was said. He knew there were some issues. I wanted him to know there could have been some other motive to the allegation other than what he had heard from Tupelo High School. I did not know what the allegation was. In fact at the end of the conversation (he said it was difficult for him to go around town). I felt like a prisoner in my own town and I didn’t know what I did. I felt it wasn’t fair. I spoke to him about that and I spoke to him about my concerns about the motive behind it. I told him I don’t know exactly what the allegation is behind me. I just want to know what I did. He said to me, I didn’t know you didn’t know. He said to me the allegation was pranking and bullying a student. Those were his words. Why couldn’t Mr. Harris have told me that. What was the secret? Mr. Meadows was the first person who told me a week later why I was placed on administrative leave, why I couldn’t have my voice lessons why I was treated like a criminal and they took my keys away from me. I wanted a specific explanation of what I had done and he gave it to me a week later.
Keith refers to a letter from Harris said that it involves an event at Ellis’ house that pranked students. Keith said that was the only issue you talked to Harris about.
Ellis: He said inappropriate behavior. His communication wasn’t clear to me. Inappropriate behavior can mean a lot of things.
Keith: You didn’t think your actions on Friday night were inappropriate.
Ellis: In hindsight, but I didn’t think it was so horrible because it was fun for those kids
Keith: With the benefit of Monday morning quarterbacking, you can see that now?
I can see now that things can be taken in a way that can be perceived as a real serious problem and I would never do that again because I see that now. At the time it was a lapse of judgment. I was going to be honest about that. What teacher hasn’t had a lapse of judgment. Teachers have lapses of judgment all of the time. I didn’t think the end result was so serious that anyone got hurt, that anyone was harmed by it that it was so serious an issue to make a big deal out of it.
Keith asks if Ellis understood that Meadows would do a further investigation. Ellis said yes.
Keith asks Ellis about Harris’ concern over what would happen if there had been an accident.
Ellis: I remember saying I could see his viewpoint in that. That was part of the reason why my conscience was toiling with me on that night. My state of mind also said what if I did send them out and they got in an accident and their parents thought they were with me. I was toiling with that and I told him that.
Keith: Mr. Ellis you could have told the boys they weren’t leaving the house. You could have had them call
There are a lot of things, but couldn’t there be a reprimand and some advice before being placed on leave and making me believe there is something bigger in all of this. I feel like there could have been a discussion with my administration about how to prevent this from happened. I had never been involved with anything like this before
Keith: The school district can’t read your mind and decide what you were going to do in light of a lapse of judgment as occurred on Friday night?
Ellis: Not the school district can not read my mind.
Keith is talking about Suzy Williams interview and the fact that Ellis scored another candidate higher. Ellis said he contacted that candidate and told her he had scored her higher and he wished she had gotten the job.
Keith asked him about it being inappropriate to do that.
Ellis: That applicant is a friend of mine and I wanted her to know that I wanted to work with her. I encouraged her to apply for the job.
Keith: You divulged confidential information to one of the candidates.
Ellis: I didn’t realize my score or talking to her, I didn’t talk about Suzy’s score, I just talked about her score and that she was a better candidate for the position.
Keith: You don’t think it was inappropriate for one of the interviewers to have to discussion?
Ellis said no.
Ellis said he did not talk to Williams about the conversation or the fact that he did not score her as highly
Keith asks Ellis about changing the scheduling. Ellis said the master schedule was wrong. He said it was an administrative problem. He said the rehearsed the choir expecting the change to block schedule that never happened. HE said the schedule for choir has been the same for 20 years. Students in choir tended to be higher performing students and AP classes were offered in the morning.
“All of a sudden out of nowhere, this year first period is varsity choir (which meets at the same time as a lot of AP classes). Second period is Madrigals which had always been at the end of the day. It was a totally different schedule and it messed up a lot of students.
Ellis said he emailed Lee Johnson during the summer and asked if they could alter master schedule because there were a lot of problems. It was in the beginning of July. At that time Lee Johnson took on a new position and she never responded to his request.
“By the time I finally got around to scheduling, there were kids we were planning on being in chorus that weren’t in chorus, kids we were planning on being in show choir that weren’t in show choir. When I went back and tried to schedule with Mr. Harris and Ms. Topp we were told we would do the best we could but we could not change the periods.
Keith: You knew the schedule was set before the interviews
Ellis: I knew the schedule was set, but I talked to Mr. Harris about it being wrong.
Keith: Before the interviews?
Ellis: Yes. He said it was sometime between July 1 and July 13. He said he wished he had his email so he could go back and prove that.
Keith: In fact, we have a document,
It is an email from Ellis to Harris about an incident involving Whitwell.
Ellis said Whitwell called Harris and asked if she could sit in on interviews for choral department. Earlier that day there was a booster meeting and parents were inquiring. Ellis told them he knew some applicants personally and he would sit in on the interviews and everything would get figured out. He said Whitwell said that she would sit in on it and Ellis thought she was joking. When Whitwell called Harris about it, he apologized to Harris that she had done that.
Ellis said he never told Whitwell to do that and he thought she was joking.
The email asked Harris to tell the candidates that Ellis would not be the one making the decision on who would be hired.
Ellis said he was an acquaintance of all of the applicants and was friends with two of them, although one of those ended up not applying. Ellis said he sat in on four interviews.
Keith goes back to the email. In it Ellis refers to his frustration with the choral booster board.
Keith: Did you let Dr. Williams know that you did not prefer her for the position?
Ellis: I already let her know that I did not tell her.
Keith: What position was Dr. Williams interviewing for?
Ellis: Assistant choral director?
Keith: Do you know what her contract says?
Ellis: No, but I do know that is how Mr. Harris referred to it in the interview. How am I supposed to know what her contract said.
Ellis “Let me also state I don’t know what this is a charge. That I was claiming I was director of choral activities. I am not just the show choir director. When I came in I was the assistant choral director under Vicky Wilson(?) I sat in the meeting where she said you have been in that school, you are in that position and you are ready to move up. (Said Stratton understood that was his position and that every piece of correspondence that went out indicated that).
I had been there, I had put in the time, I knew the program, I knew what it was about. As a matter of fact, I was named by Mr. Stratton the chair of the fine arts department. Why would I not be the director of the choral department but I would be director of fine arts department. Why would that be known to everyone but the people at central office. Why would you refer to my supplement that said show choir director. Would you not agree that I (Also direct chorus).
Keith: Would you agree that your position is defined by your contract and not by people in the community.
Ellis: Yes but I think the administration my not know what is going on.
Keith refers Ellis to his contract It says his supplement is for THS show choir director. Ellis: Can you show me a legal document that shows anything different than that?
Ellis: No. I just can’t understand why. I had been in that department. When Vicky Wilson left she talked to me as if (he had moved into that position. Mr. Stratton talked to him as if he was in that position. He didn’t know he had to do anything to change his contract?) How am I supposed to know my contract is supposed to say supervisor of choral activities?
Keith: When you read that contract did you have any questions of Mr. Stratton or any other administrator?
Ellis: No, because I had already spoken to Mr. Stratton about my role as director of choral activities for the upcoming year.
Keith: After the schedule was changed, Dr. Williams from five classes to two. One of the classes taken away was Madrigals?
Ellis: I didn’t tell her that was my class. I told her of the problem we faced last year with the scheduling. Tow years in a row we had problems with scheduling. the first problem was when Ms. Vicky Wilson resigned in the middle of the schedule, the master schedule was already made. (He talked to Lee Johnson about reviewing the schedule. She told her that she could not change the schedule. He said that is why he and Atkinson co-directed and he would have loved to co-direct with Williams because that is a fun role and a fun group to direct)
He said knew Atkinson’s name was on the schedule and they couldn’t change it. I wasn’t trying to take over anything. It has always been tradition for director of choral activities to direct madrigals. He said he could have taken it over but he said to co-direct it. He said it isn’t his problem, it is an administrative problem with the schedule.
HE said he informed Williams of the problem they had the prior year with the schedule. He would be happy to co-direct but she did not want to co-direct.
Ellis said he went to Evet Topp and told her the problems with the schedule and the assignments.
The day after MS. Williams got hired, I asked her to meet at the school so I could discuss anything.
Keith said if they are going to talk about Williams’ character, it will need to go into closed session.
Ellis said it is important to note.
Hearing goes into closed session at 4:38 p.m.
The hearing has recessed for today. It will resume on Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m. at the Hancock Leadership Center. When it does so, Ellis will still be on the stand under examination by the district. The hearing will be in closed session when it resumes.