By Chris Kieffer | NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Interim superintendent David Meadows testified on Monday that a Sept. 30 prank sparked an investigation that eventually led to Calvin Ellis’ dismissal as Tupelo High School’s choral director.
Meadows was the lone witness to testify on Monday, the first day of Ellis’ appeal hearing. He spoke of a Wave Connection gathering on Sept. 30 in which the girls from the show choir gathered at a parent’s house, while the boys were at Ellis’ home.
During the night, Ellis drove the boys to Walmart, Meadows said, and those boys eventually pulled a prank on the girls in the group using condoms, bananas, Vaseline and shaving cream.
Shortly afterward, a parent called a school board member to complain about the incident, and the board member relayed the message to Meadows, he said. Concerned by the fact that students were at Ellis’ home and that sexually-suggestive items were involved, Meadows initiated an investigation, he said.
Meadows testified for more than five hours on Monday after he was called by the district’s attorneys to outline his reasons for firing Ellis on Oct. 28. Meadows was being cross examined by Ellis’ attorney, David Butts, when the hearing adjourned for the day and will still be on the stand when it resumes today at 9 a.m. at the Hancock Leadership Center.
At roughly the same time Meadows began the investigation, he said he became aware that Ellis had not obtained copyrights for several songs in Wave Connection’s routine, forcing the group to cancel its scheduled mid-October show. Meadows said he was concerned that Ellis had not informed the district of the copyright issues, which placed possible liability on the district.
The resulting investigation, which Meadows said “exploded,” resulted in the district providing Ellis with a four-page letter noting 23 charges against the choral director. Some of those charges cite multiple offenses.
Butts objected to all of the documents submitted by the district that had not been previously provided to him. Butts said that he received 140 documents from the district’s attorneys at 1:37 p.m. on Sunday and that not having them until mere hours before the hearing hindered his ability to prepare.
Butts claimed a denial of due process and a lack of fairness. He made a motion at the beginning of the hearing to have Ellis’ charges dismissed on those grounds.
Hearing officer John Compton noted Butts’ motion but said that he is charged with conducting a hearing and presenting a transcript to the school board, which will make a final decision on Ellis’ future. For him to dismiss the hearing would be to take the decision out of the hands of the board, Compton said.
On Meadows’ cross examination, Butts pressed him on the fact that the charges resulted from information that had been relayed to Meadows rather than from events Meadows observed himself.
Butts asked Meadows if he had any expertise on copyright law, and Meadows said he had none. He also quizzed Meadows about other possible violations of copyright law in the district, such as the copying of sheet music or teachers playing copyrighted videos beyond what was allowed by fair use laws.
Meadows said he was not aware of such violations.