Public hearing starts over West Amory Elementary School principal’s possible termination

AMORY — An overflow crowd attended the opening day Monday of an Amory School District public hearing regarding the possible termination of West Amory Elementary Principal Leigh Todd. Todd’s attorney Jim Waide of Tupelo asked for a larger hearing room but the request was denied by the school district because they said a larger room wasn’t available for it.

The public hearing is intended to present both sides of a personnel matter regarding Todd so that the Amory School Board can then make a decision on her employment. Supt. Gearl Loden recommended her termination as principal of the grades pre-K to 2nd grade school prior to spring break. The discipline matter that caused the uproar occurred on March 7 and involved a 2nd grade student.

After the hearing’s opening business was handled by the appointed hearing officer Phillip Tutor and Waide and the school district’s attorneys Sam Griffie and Brad Dillard, Todd was called to the witness stand to testify.

According to her testimony, Todd said she was asked to resign from her position allegedly due to the way she disciplined an 8-year-old boy on March 7.

She said it was the third offense for this second-grade child at the school this year. She said the child is classified as SLD with a reading comprehension learning disability. Because he was sticking his tongue out at his teachers and flipping the middle finger at them and telling his teachers to shut up, Todd said his teacher, Mrs. Rosanna Blair, took him to Todd for discipline.

Todd said she kept the child with her that day and made him stick his tongue out as a punishment, popping him with a ruler when he did not keep his tongue out. “I tried to get him to comply with the punishment and I took him to meetings (grade level) with me to supervise him,” she said.

Todd said she had left the school building for a time during the day, at which time Assistant Principal David Millender was asked to supervise the child. During the course of the day, it was revealed that the child missed lunch. “I discussed punishment and proper behavior with him in my office around 1 p.m.” Todd said. She noted that her memory was not vague about what happened that day.

Todd said she had notified the child’s parents, specifically calling his mother and telling her about the misbehavior. She said the mother had agreed to its terms over the phone. The mother then called the boy’s father at his workplace and advised him of the matter. Todd said the parents did not want him suspended from school, which the school’s handbook allows after a third offense. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to suspend and put a child out of school,” Todd said. “And the parents didn’t want that either.”

“The purpose of punishment is to correct the behavior,” Todd said. “He wasn’t upset when he left school that day. I had the parent’s support that day.”

A few days later, when Todd was at a curriculum meeting in Tupelo, she was notified by Amory Supt. Dr. Gearl Loden that there was a problem with the way she handled the discipline of that child. She said later Dr. Loden and the school district’s attorney Sam Griffie went to West Amory Elementary School to investigate the discipline matter while she was at the central office dealing with testing data, four days after the incident.

At Monday’s hearing, the school district also called both the mother and father of the child to the witness stand. They both said they did not know that their child was being disciplined by having to stick his tongue out. His father said it made him mad when he found out that his child had been disciplined in this way and also when he learned that his child had never been given lunch that day. Both parents said they believed that they were agreeing to an in-school suspension that would occur at East Amory Elementary School. They said they had agreed for Todd to transport their child in her car to the other elementary school for the suspension after he arrived at his own school by his regular bus.

Both parents said they felt like they have been lied to by the different parties in this case in the school district. They said on the Sunday night after the incident, both Dr. Loden and AHS Principal David Poss had come to their house to talk about Todd’s disciplining of their child. They said the next night Todd and her husband showed up at their house. “She said she was sorry about the lunch being missed,” the father said. “She said she had not hit his tongue with the ruler.”

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Chris Wilson/Monroe Journal