Monday, March 15, 2010

School board battle ends

Here are two stories from last week's newspaper concerning a sexual harassment investigation for a middle school principal in 2006-07. The file took three years to get.


Documents confirm ex-TCMS principal was
investigated for sexual harassment, other charges

By Melony Shemberger
Todd County Standard

Before James Kenneth Killebrew was fired from his job as principal at Todd County Middle School, he was offered the opportunity to resign immediately.

That was Oct. 27, 2006, when Killebrew was accused of sexually harassing, discriminating and intimidating other employees, all female. He denied the allegations to then-Interim Superintendent Bruce Gray.
Consequently, Killebrew refused Gray’s proposal to resign.

Then, on Jan. 19, 2007, Killebrew resigned from his position, effective Dec. 15, 2006. The resignation was one of the terms reached in a settlement that also paid $27,000 for his legal fees in the matter, led to a reinstatement of his teaching license and removed any sexual harassment charges and other claims against him.

Arguably, the settlement agreement cleared Killebrew of any alleged wrongdoing and dropped any claims he had against the Todd County Board of Education. But it also, to some extent, disregards what five female employees reported to school officials in 2006: Four charged Killebrew with inappropriately touching them, and a fifth teacher said he intimidated her by threatening her job and pay.

“The Board and Gray release, waive, and forever discharge any claims against Killebrew,” according to the settlement.

The settlement is one of many documents recently declared public record and given to the Todd County Standard, following a circuit court ruling that upheld a 2007 attorney general’s opinion. It dismissed with prejudice the school board’s case against Killebrew and his appeal of the charges. This means that when the case is settled or dismissed, the plaintiff is barred from bringing an action on the same claim.

Efforts to contact both Killebrew and Gray for comment on this story were unsuccessful. A representative at Borders, a national book retailer with a store in Clarksville, Tenn., where Killebrew is an employee, said. Killebrew has not been working recently due to being on medical leave. A message was left for Gray, but the call was not returned as of Tuesday night.

What other records revealed
In addition to the settlement, the Standard received copies of Killebrew’s personnel file, which included an internal investigation report with statements by the five complainants and others who had information relating to the charges against Killebrew.

(It is the policy of Todd County Standard not to report the names of victims or complainants in sexual harassment cases.)

The investigation concluded that the statements “were consistent in setting out a pattern of inappropriate conduct by Mr. Killebrew.”

“Based on the totality of the investigation we find that sexual harassment, intimidation and discrimination have occurred by Mr. Kenneth Killebrew, principal of TCMS,” the report read.

According to the report, during the investigation – which began Oct. 25, 2006, and ended Oct. 27, 2006 – Killebrew attempted to have his staff members withdraw their statements, despite Gray’s warning not to retaliate against them.

“Mr. Gray had no option but to take disciplinary action prior to the completion of this investigation to prevent Mr. Killebrew from continuing to attempt to intimidate the staff at TCMS,” the investigation report stated.

After he was fired, Killebrew told Gray that “no one had ever told him no” at the time the incidents of sexual harassment occurred, according to the report. In an attempt to intimidate, Killebrew then accused Gray of requiring teachers to have sex with him to keep their jobs. The ex-principal also attempted to have a teacher with whom he was having an extramarital affair accuse Gray of having had an affair with her, too. She refused to follow Killebrew’s request.

In addition to sexual harassment, Killebrew was accused of making inappropriate racial comments. The investigation revealed that sometime in the fall of 2006, he said scores on state assessments “would improve if the school could get rid of some African-American students.”

“The petitioner made statements that the TCMS should not let any additional black students enroll in the sixth grade, so that they could get rid of the subpopulation for testing and improve the CATS scores,” another investigation report stated.
Killebrew also allegedly gave a massage to a female student in class and berated staff members in front of others, according to the documents in his personnel file.

“He would throw objects at staff members, hide office items such as staplers, keys and so forth from staff members, and intimidated the staff so that they were afraid, did not want to be left alone in their rooms, and did not want to be there in the building alone,” according to the report.

Sometime after the internal investigation had ended, Killebrew requested a tribunal hearing to challenge his termination. Those hearings were canceled after the school board voted unanimously in December 2006 to settle the matter.

According to an order reached between Killebrew and the school board and mediated by the Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board, the former TCMS principal admitted that while his conduct could have been considered inappropriate and unprofessional, he denied his actions violated state education law.

Killebrew’s license was suspended for a year, but that was retroactive beginning Jan. 1, 2007. To retain his professional certification, he also was ordered to complete 12 hours of sexual harassment training.

A longtime legal battle
The Todd County Standard had been seeking disclosure of the documents for three years under the state’s Open Records Act. In February 2007, when the school board paid $27,000 to Killebrew as part of the settlement, school board attorney Harold “Mac” Johns refused the Standard’s request for the release of the terms of the settlement as well as Killebrew’s employment, discipline and termination records. The Standard then filed an open records appeal with the state attorney general’s office.

That following April, the attorney general’s office sided with the Standard, ruling that the law allows public disclosure of reprimands to employees regarding job-related misconduct and settlement documents.

The school board opted to appeal the ruling. Had no appeal been filed, the attorney general’s decision would have been enforced, according to state law.

Rather, it took three years for the public to learn why Killebrew was no longer principal at TCMS and why public dollars were paid to settle a dispute with him.


Judge orders school board
to give documents to Standard

By Melony Shemberger
Todd County Standard

A monetary settlement reached with a former principal following his termination from Todd County Schools has been released to the Todd County Standard by the school board attorney weeks after it was ordered to be disclosed.

Todd County Circuit Court Judge Tyler Gill upheld an attorney-general’s opinion Jan. 22 ordering the board to disclose the contents of the settlement, as well as the employee’s personnel files.

For the most part, Gill’s ruling ends a three-year legal battle between the school and the Standard, which has fought for disclosure of employee records of James Kenneth Killebrew, former principal of Todd County Middle School.

The weekly newspaper received copies of various documents from Killebrew’s employment file. One of the documents included an internal investigation report signed by district school officials that showed he was fired in October 2006 for sexual harassment, intimidation and discrimination against five female school employees.

However, the Standard did not receive a copy of the settlement reached between Killebrew and the school system in the inch-thick file. It wasn’t until March 3 when school board attorney Harold “Mac” Johns handed over the settlement without explanation for the delay.

In his opinion affirming the decision of the attorney-general, Gill said that Killebrew’s employment file, although containing some personal information, was a public record.

“Although personnel files are inherently personal in nature, the allegations against this principal of sexual harassment, inappropriate sexual relationships and racial discrimination against students in the conduct as his official duties as principal give the public a legitimate interest in the contents of his personnel file,” the judge ruled.

Identifiable information – such as address, date of birth, telephone number and Social Security number – for Killebrew and all individuals named in the matter was redacted, or blacked out, by the court.

The Standard requested copies of Killebrew’s employment, discipline, termination records and terms of the settlement in February 2007. Johns refused the newspaper’s request, and the Standard then filed an open records appeal with the state attorney general’s office.

In April 2007, the attorney general’s office sided with the Standard, ruling that the law allows public disclosure of reprimands to employees regarding job-related misconduct and settlement documents.

The school board appealed the ruling, leading to the lawsuit against the Standard. Had no appeal been filed, the attorney general’s decision would have been enforced, according to state law.

Gill’s opinion was the result of a hearing Jan. 6, in which he indicated at the time he was inclined to side with the Standard for disclosure of the records. Until that time, the school board’s lawsuit against the Standard had been delayed in court for more than two years.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great work....You guys must have been trained by one hell of a journalist...You made him proud...

News Brother

9:33 PM, March 16, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have only half of the real story and with never truly understand what Mr. Gray did for the county in his last year!!!!The intern superintendent and then school board DID the right thing for the students,staff in question/concern, and financially for the school system. He remove two principals that were NOT worthy of the postion and many more educational upgrades to advance learning.HE was not afraid to employ the best---not just Todd County home grown.

4:26 PM, August 19, 2010  

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