Public hearing concerning West Amory Elementary School Principal continues

AMORY – The second day in a public hearing to determine whether West Amory Elementary School Principal Leigh Todd should be fired or not was held Tuesday at the Amory School District’s central office.

On the opening day, four WAES teachers, the school district’s operations manager, Todd and the child’s parents testified.

The second day was a continuation of the school district’s witnesses taking the stand with their testimony regarding what they saw happen on March 7 when Todd disciplined an unruly second grade special needs student who had been brought to her office by his teacher for sticking his tongue out and telling his teacher to shut-up.

During Tuesday’s testimony, Amory Supt. of Education Gearl Loden was first to be called up as a witness. Loden went over with the school district’s attorney Sam Griffie what had happened leading up to his recommendation that Todd’s employment be terminated.

Loden said he and special programs director Dr. Candace Moore investigated the incident and interviewed teachers at the school one by one on Friday, March 11. Loden said he had learned of Todd’s unorthodox and unacceptable discipline on March 10 when one of the teachers at the school, Julie Hurst, had asked to meet in private with him to tell him about the incident. Loden said all of the teachers they interviewed that day were fearful to talk about Mrs. Todd. He said they feared for their jobs. Loden called the discipline that Todd had used “abuse” and said that later he talked to the school district’s attorney, Sam Griffie, and they decided it needed to be reported to the Department of Human Services (DHS). It was reported to DHS in a phone call and letter on March 17.

Todd’s attorney, Jim Waide, in questioning Loden, asked him why he allowed so many of the teachers from WAES at the public hearing on Tuesday when they had been dismissed as witnesses on Monday. “Are the taxpayers paying for them to be here?” Waide asked. “Are they allowed to be out of school today?”

Loden went on to say in later questioning that he had considered Todd one of his “star” administrators. He said he frequently bragged on her performance. He had even considered her for the curriculum coordinator job next year, a job that Dr. Candace Moore had also expressed interest in having.

Waide wanted to know why none of the teachers who had witnessed Todd’s discipline of the child reported it to DHS. He pointed out that it’s a felony to observe child abuse and not report it to the authorities. Loden said he believed the teachers feared Todd’s retaliation.

At one point in the cross examination of Loden, he became very emotional and said, “Everything I have is on the line for this kid. I don’t care if it costs me my job.” Loden said that if the school board doesn’t uphold this hearing and terminate Todd’s employment, then he would probably have to step down as superintendent.

Other witnesses called to testify by the school district Tuesday included four more WAES teachers, Rebecca Hudson, Kim Buskirk, Candy Atkins, and Heather Gault. All of them confirmed seeing the boy being punished on March 7 and forced to keep his tongue out of his mouth, even during their staff meetings. They said Todd swatted him with a ruler when he put his tongue back into his mouth.

Also testifying were two secretaries from the school, Charlotte Tubb and Jeanie Abney, assistant principal David Millender, Amory High Principal David Poss, guidance counselor Paige Tidwell, and special programs director Dr. Candace Moore. All of them pretty much agreed that Todd’s punishment of the child was excessive.

Poss’s testimony was varied in that he had not witnessed the punishment, but had gone with Loden to the family’s house on Sunday night, March 13, as a witness to take notes. He wrote in his signed notes that the child’s parents were told by Todd about the tongue punishment. However, a later affidavit that the child’s mother signed last week at the attorney Griffie’s office and at the father’s workplace in Tupelo was just the opposite, Waide pointed out, and stated that they did not know about their son’s tongue punishment. It stated that Todd had not told them that, only about their child being put into several days of in-school detention (ISD) as a punishment.

The hearing was suspended by the hearing officer Phil Tutor until a future date when all parties can come together again. None of Todd’s witnesses have yet been called to testify. When the hearing is over, the district’s school board members will get a transcript and then decide whether to fire Todd.

Chris Wilson/Monroe Journal