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School board under fire
Teacher shifts in Patrick cause public outcry
School board Chairman Ronnie Terry (right) discusses school-related issues with Patrick County residents (from left to right) Lisa Goins, Rhonda Pruitt and Barbara Roberts. Woolwine resident Alfred Brammer (third from right) and Smith River District board member Bobby Mangrum pictured in background. (Bulletin photo by Debbie Hall)
A Patrick County School Board meeting Thursday resulted in more questions than answers for the more than 100 residents present. Some of them called for the removal of schools Superintendent Roger Morris.
“The superintendent that you hired and entrusted our children with and our employees with referred to the people of Patrick County and their problems as ‘small town junk,’” Paula Drady told the school board shortly after Chairman Ronnie Terry adjourned the meeting.
Drady was referring to a story that ran on a newscast at 6 p.m. Thursday on WDBJ7 television in Roanoke about the school board’s controversial decision to transfer 10 teachers and other staff members. Some of the people at the meeting saw the newscast on their smartphones during the school board’s closed session.
The reporter on the story quoted Morris as saying, “it’s a bunch of small town junk.”
“Maybe it’s time, Dr. Morris, that you left Patrick County,” Drady said, as some other audience members made similar comments.
Morris did not respond as he exited the adjourned meeting, held in the Patrick County High School auditorium, amid people’s cries of “we’re not junk.”
The transfer of the teachers has prompted anger among many teachers and parents. Some of the 10 were moved from Patrick County High School to an elementary school, while some elementary school teachers were moved to the high school.
Earlier in the meeting, former Virginia attorney general Mary Sue Terry, a Patrick County native and resident, addressed the school board.
After admonishing Morris for not looking at the speakers, which Terry said showed a lack of respect, she asked the identity of a woman seated with the board.
The woman was identified as Stacy Haney, an associate with the Reed Smith law firm in Richmond.
Terry then asked the board to adopt rules of order by the end of the meeting.
“Right now, this board has no operating rules and that is required under your policy,” Terry said.
She received permission to attend Thursday’s meeting after being served with a “No Trespassing” notice following a June meeting in which she was accused of barging into a closed session. Under the notice, Terry was required to have permission from the superintendent or board chairman before going to any future meetings.
Terry said she had been advised by Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith that a special prosecutor who was asked to review the notice told her he would not prosecute if Terry attended the meeting without permission.
Smith said later that Pittsylvania County Commonwealth’s Attorney David Grimes served as the special prosecutor after Patrick Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Vipperman recused herself.
Smith said Grimes was concerned about whether Ronnie Terry, who is not related to Mary Sue Terry, had the authority to act alone and send the notice.
Smith also said he had received an email in which Dan River District School Board member Quinn Brim said he “did not know about the letter (notice to Terry), that it had not been voted on and was sent without his (Brim’s) knowledge.”
If that was the case, it “is not ethical” and shows “enormous disrespect,” Mary Sue Terry told the board.
Also during the meeting, Brim said he did not know about the notice sent to Mary Sue Terry. But, Brim said, he could not speak for the rest of the board members.
Neither Peters Creek District member Annie Hylton nor Smith River District member Bobby Mangrum responded when Mary Sue Terry asked if they were aware of the notice.
A short time later, Mangrum told Terry “you said I wasn’t paying attention” when she asked if he knew about the letter.
Terry also told the board that it needed to establish “two-way communication with the community at all times. “We’ve asked a lot of questions and gotten no answers. I’d like to hear some answers,” Terry said.
Mangrum said the board would discuss the questions and issue a press release. He did not say when.
Terry was among several residents seeking answers.
Drady questioned why board minutes and agendas are not being posted online as they once were.
Morris responded that the computer system was down for maintenance.
She also encouraged the school board to rethink its 30-minute public comment period to allow all concerned residents to speak at Thursday’s meeting.
Like many other speakers, Drady questioned the transfers of teachers.
School officials have said the transfers were approved as part of a reorganization plan prepared after a state Department of Education investigation of the school division last fall.
Elizabeth Wallace, a math teacher at Patrick County High School, said the governance of the school division is dysfunctional.
“You five people on the board have the power to turn this school system around today,” she said.
Wallace also said transferring teachers out of their areas of expertise is counterproductive and not in the best interests of students.
Danny Wood said “there never has been such controversy” as exists in the school division now. The transfers, he said, are “a terrible injustice to teachers.”
See more coverage on this story in Sunday’s Martinsville Bulletin.