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Educators, others protest in Patrick
Former Virginia Attorney General Mary Sue Terry (left, with microphone) addresses a protest Friday at the Patrick County Courthouse staged by the Patrick County Educators. The protest centered on the group’s complaints with the Patrick County School Board and schools Superintendent Roger Morris. (Bulletin photo by Ben R. Williams)
Sunday, September 8, 2013
By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer
About 100 people gathered at the Patrick County Courthouse Friday to protest the conduct of Patrick County Schools Superintendent Roger Morris and the county school board.
According to Paula Drady, who was the emcee at Friday’s protest, the event was staged by the Patrick County Educators, a group of 25-30 current and former county teachers, along with friends and family members of county teachers.
“We’d been talking about it for a couple of weeks,” Drady said. “I think it was decided when we weren’t getting anywhere with the school board. No matter what question you ask, (the school board says): ‘We’ll have to discuss it and get back to you.’ They don’t get the idea that they don’t discuss things outside of session.
“... We’ve asked, we have spoke civilly to them, we have begged, we have commanded and nothing works, so our only opportunity is to go to the people. It’s all we have,” she added.
Last fall, complaints from school staff prompted a review by the state Department of Education (DOE) of alleged irregularities in testing, diploma administration, communication and personnel matters. As a result, the state sought improvements in professionalism among employees, more training and better communication, among other areas.
The school division put together a reorganization plan to address the state’s concerns. Included in that plan was the transfer of about 10 teachers and/or staff members, school officials have said. After the school board approved the transfers, five employees filed complaints alleging that they were transferred in retaliation for taking their concerns to the state. Last month an independent investigation labeled four of the five complaints founded. The fifth remained under investigation.
Morris began paid medical leave on Aug. 12 and was scheduled to return to work Friday.
However, Patrick County School Board Chairman Ronnie Terry said Friday that Morris’ medical leave has been extended to Oct. 14. Morris declined to comment.
On Friday, about 20 members of the Patrick County Educators group spoke from the steps of the courthouse, airing their grievances against Morris and the school board. A common thread between most speakers was frustration over a lack of transparency in school board affairs.
John Halsey, who taught for 31 years in the Patrick schools, said these transparency issues have existed for a year and a half.
“This is a rally to express to the school board that we have concerns and want answers,” Halsey said, “and we would like for them to be transparent and very open with what’s going on.”
Retired Patrick teacher and elementary school principal Larry Belcher said the controversy surrounding the school system has damaged the system and the county.
“We can get our reputation back,” he said. “It didn’t take long to lose it, (but) I know it’ll take a long time to get it back.”
Belcher said that he did not believe there was a way for the school system to move forward with Morris at its helm, a sentiment echoed by many throughout the protest.
Former Virginia Attorney General Mary Sue Terry of Patrick County spoke at the end of the protest. She questioned why senior members of the school board have stood behind Morris in spite of “public pressure” and “bad press.”
“Let’s look forward to a time, and I don’t think it’s long in coming, when the majority of the school board is committed to the children of Patrick County. We can’t care about children unless we care equally about teachers,” she said.
“This battle’s not over. There’s a school board election coming up (Nov. 5), and unless something is done that happens between now and then, we’ll have a (new) board, and the questions will begin to be answered,” Terry added.