Federal lawsuit filed against Alcorn school officials

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal

CORINTH – A lawsuit filed in federal court Monday in Aberdeen may shed light on questions about the abrupt firing and reinstatement of Alcorn Central Middle School principal Dan Burcham.
Filed by Tupelo attorney Rachel Pierce Waide on behalf of Janet Walls Holley and Stephanie Leigh Eaton, the lawsuit names Superintendent Gina Rogers Smith and Burcham as defendants.
The suit, which presents only one side of a legal argument, describes Holley and Eaton as employees at Alcorn Central Middle School.
It alleges that for a period of time through February 2013, Burcham “engaged in reprehensible conduct” with respect to the two women and other employees of the school district, and that Smith violated their right to free speech by ordering them not to reveal the nature of the conduct.
Both defendants, according to the complaint, say they have been under doctors’ care as a result of the “severe psychological illness,” and have returned to work despite physicians’ advice not to do so.
Burcham was suspended with pay from his duties as principal on Feb. 11, while the complaints about his conduct were being investigated.
Burcham was fired by Smith on Feb. 13, but was reinstated when he demanded a hearing from the school board, which is in conformance with state law, said school district attorney Jimmy Price.
He remains on paid administrative leave until the hearing.
The hearing is scheduled in closed session at 4 p.m. Thursday, with Judge Johnny Ross as hearing officer and testimony recorded by a court reporter.
Board members will not be in attendance, but a written report must be submitted to the board by Ross so that the board may make a decision within 30 days, also as the law requires, Price said.
The lawsuit requests a declaratory judgment against Smith based on First Amendment rights, and a jury trial for actual and punitive damages for infliction of mental distress. No court date has been set.
Price said he just received a copy of the lawsuit Tuesday and had not had a chance to review it.
lena.mitchell@journalinc.com