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Police: Fifth complaint against Patrick schools was founded
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin staff writer
Virginia State Police are investigating how the Patrick County High School class of 2010’s legacy gift was bought, and a private investigator has concluded that the fifth and final complaint alleging retaliation against a Patrick Schools employee was founded.
That complaint was filed by Dr. Karen Wood against schools Superintendent Roger Morris, according to Wood and School Board Chairman Ronnie Terry.
Wood alleged in the complaint that she was retaliated against for speaking out during a state Department of Education (DOE) investigation last year when the school board voted to approve her transfer from the director of instruction for K-12 position in the school board’s central office to an off-site position of staff development, parent and adult education.
Complaints from school staff prompted a review by the DOE last fall. The review alleged irregularities in testing, diploma administration, communication and personnel matters, and the state asked for improvements in professionalism among employees, more training and better communication, among other things.
A reorganization plan to address the state’s concerns included the transfers of about 10 teachers and/or staff members. After the school board approved the transfers, Wood was among five employees who filed complaints alleging that they were transferred in retaliation for taking their concerns to the state.
Wood’s former post was eliminated and replaced by two new positions — executive director of elementary education and assessment (currently held by Cindi Williams) and Assistant Superintendent Dean Gilbert, who was appointed to also oversee the secondary education portion, Wood said.
In July, an independent investigator found that four of the five complaints were founded, with Wood’s complaint still under investigation.
Wood said she was notified in a hand-delivered letter from the school board on Sept. 4 that the independent investigator had determined that her reassignment to a work station outside of the central office was the result of retaliation, Wood said.
The school board also notified Wood in the letter that she would return to the central office, but she would continue doing the duties of her current job, Wood said.
“I’ve been given my old office back and I will be working out of that area. Everything was ready for me” to return to the central office on Sept. 6, Wood said.
Her pay and hours are the same, Wood said. “Nothing has really changed except I’ve been given different job responsibilities,” she added.
Terry said any change in Wood’s position “hopefully will be determined when” the school board meets Sept. 18.
Wood said she hopes the former coordinator of adult education, Leigh Ann Hazelwood — who was transferred to the career and technical education department at PCHS during the group of transfers — will be returned to her position.
Hazelwood is “the only one not back in her original position,” Wood said. “I don’t mind being director” with Hazelwood returned to her original position as coordinator of adult education.
For now, Wood said it is enough to know her complaint was founded.
“My major excitement is the complaint was founded,” she said. “I’m very excited the retaliation was founded. It took 90-plus days for me to receive that information, but I was very pleased. I’m jumping for joy.”
On the legacy gift, Patrick County Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Vipperman said State Police special agent Jim Minter is investigating the purchase of a statue of a cougar — the high school’s mascot — as a legacy gift from the class of 2010. The statue was placed in front of the new office at the high school.
Elizabeth Wallace, a math teacher at the high school and a co-sponsor of the 2010 senior class, has alleged that neither she nor the senior class authorized spending $3,500 to buy the statue. Wallace said the money was from students’ fundraising efforts, and it was used without her knowledge or consent from the class. The funds generally are used for graduation and other costs, Wallace said.
Vipperman said the state police received “that same complaint multiple times. I know they’ve gotten the same complaint” at least three times, she said.
Two residents called Vipperman with the information, and Vipperman said she gave them the number to the state police. A third complaint was filed online at the state police website, she added.
Vipperman said she was told the state police launched an investigation, but she does not know how long it may take.
Vipperman also said that Carroll County Commonwealth’s Attorney Nathan H. Lyons has agreed to serve as special prosecutor on the investigation. Lyons will make the decision of whether to prosecute and if so, will handle the prosecution, Vipperman said.
Morris is on paid medical leave through Oct. 14.