Social media confusion ends well for Union High volunteer

Mike Still • Jul 3, 2019 at 9:15 PM

BIG STONE GAP — “It’s my third day on the job,” Union High School Principal Mike Goforth said Wednesday.

That third day saw a spiral of social media controversy and misinformation about him and longtime Union volunteer Chris Kelly, before all ended Wednesday with Kelly, whose mother describes him as “a special needs individual,” still a volunteer — and the new grand marshal for Big Stone Gap’s Fourth of July parade.

The controversy started Tuesday night when Kelly’s sister, BreAnna Kelly Caudill, posted on Facebook that he had been banned from participating in school and athletic events at Union.

Caudill, in that post, claimed that students at the school had harassed Kelly and had not been punished to the extent that she claimed her brother had been punished.

Other local residents soon joined in, attacking the Wise County school system and Goforth for what Caudill claimed “is honestly a disgraceful representation of the community of Big Stone Gap, Virginia.”

On Wednesday, Superintendent Greg Mullins said Kelly was never banned from the Union campus or sports activities.

“(Kelly) had been asked not to come to the school during the instructional day,” Mullins said. “There are no duties for him during the school day.

“We appreciate Chris and everything he does for Union. He’s a valuable member of the community, and he can participate in sports practices and events.”

Mullins did not comment on Caudill’s allegations of student harassment against her brother.

Mullins said that Goforth had attempted to contact Kelly’s mother, Kathy Kelly, and Caudill Tuesday to discuss parameters for Kelly’s presence on campus for his protection and safety.

A post on Union High School’s Facebook page Wednesday morning stated that no one had been banned from the school or athletic events. The post was removed from the school page later in the day.

Goforth on Wednesday said he was able to meet with Caudill and Kathy Kelly Wednesday morning.

“They were very nice, receptive and understanding,” Goforth said of the meeting. He called Chris an asset to the Union athletic program and to the school.

“He’s probably our biggest fan,” Goforth said. “We would like to have Chris helping, but just not during instructional time.”

Kathy Kelly on Wednesday confirmed that she, Caudill and Goforth agreed to Chris not being at the school during class hours.

“I understand they have policies and I’m good with that,” Kathy Kelly said. “Chris is a special needs individual, and it hurt him when we heard he’d been banned from the school. He understands he can’t be at the school during school hours.”

Kelly said her son has a routine where he visits different people each day before going to the school to help coaches.

“He’s kind and he loves everybody at that school,” Kelly said.

Caudill could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but she posted on Facebook after the meeting with Goforth.

“Dr. Goforth has been the principal for only 3 days and therefore was not responsible for past decisions made in regard to Chris over this past year,” Caudill wrote. “However, it was decided today by Dr. Goforth that Chris WILL be allowed to participate in after school functions, including sports where Chris wants to participate and where coaches will allow him to participate. Chris will not be present during school hours, and this is understandable and accepted fully by our family as we understand the school setting and safety and security concerns within.”

Big Stone Gap Town Manager Steve Lawson said the outpouring of support for Chris led to a last-minute honor for him.

“(State Delegate) Terry Kilgore was going to be our Fourth of July parade grand marshal, but we asked him if we could bump him and make Chris the grand marshal. Terry was alright with it.”

“He’s kind and great-hearted,” Lawson said of Kelly. “Even though Facebook can be full of bad information, the response was wonderful. We wanted to put a smile on his face.”

Lawson said he wants to let people who have said they want to protest Thursday over the prior days’ events know that the issues have been resolved.

“I was proud of my community for speaking out,” Lawson said. “With times as tough as they are, our community needs to come together.”

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