The Hawkins County Board of Education voted 4-3 to deny the 17-year-old senior an appeal hearing and upheld his expulsion.
Board members Tecky Hicks and Chris Christian pointed out, however, that the BOE violated its own policy when it failed to identify the purpose of Tuesday’s special called meeting in its public notice.
The board is also in violation of its policy because it has failed to properly approve or appoint the disciplinary hearing authority that voted last month to expel the boy.
Board policy states that the authority must be appointed each year by the BOE, but Hicks noted that the appointments haven’t come up for a vote during his five years on the board.
The disciplinary hearing authority is currently comprised of High School Supervisor Wes Smith, Attendance Supervisor Greg Sturgill and Clinch High School Principal Denise McKee.
Hicks, Christian and Cathy Cradic voted in favor of allowing the student an appeal hearing, while Jackie Charles, Debbie Shedden, Holly Helton and BOE Chairman Bob Larkins voted against.
The expulsion is overturned
The student’s parents and attorney Troy Bowlin were prepared to file a lawsuit against the BOE after Tuesday’s vote to affirm his expulsion.
However, moments after the meeting adjourned, attorney Lawrence Giordano, who represented the school board, asked Bowlin to make sure the student and his parents didn’t leave.
The attorneys, the student, and his parents then met with Director of Schools Reba Bailey, Smith and Larkins.
During that meeting, Bailey offered to allow the student to attend Pathways Alternative School until Nov. 19, at which time he will be allowed to return to Volunteer.
That proposal was accepted. On Wednesday, the student attended orientation for alternative school, and he begins attending classes at Pathways on Thursday.
What led to the arrest and expulsion?
The boy still faces criminal charges of assault on an officer, resisting arrest and criminal trespassing.
He was initially accused of spitting on a Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office deputy after being ordered to leave the football stadium on Sept. 13. A later report indicated he was accused of placing his hands on the shoulders of an SRO (school resource officer) while she was attempting to eject him from the stadium.
The student is scheduled to appear in Hawkins County Juvenile Court on those charges Nov. 8.
The boy’s expulsion was based on the BOE’s zero-tolerance policy for assault on school employees, the alleged victim being the SRO.
Chaos at the Battle of Hawkins County
On Sept. 13, Volunteer hosted the annual Battle of Hawkins County game between Volunteer and Cherokee.
Late in the game, a Volunteer student was arrested and charged with aggravated assault after he taunted fans in the Cherokee student section by waving a Volunteer banner over their heads and then allegedly struck at least one student with the wooden banner pole when they grabbed the banner to pull it down.
Following that arrest, chaos erupted in the Volunteer student section as students demanded to know why their classmate was being arrested.
The student whose case was considered by the BOE Tuesday reportedly was ordered to leave the stadium by the deputy following an exchange of vulgar language, but he allegedly refused to go.
An unfair disciplinary hearing?
Following the BOE’s vote to affirm the student’s expulsion Tuesday, Bowlin was given an opportunity to address the board.
Bowlin said the disciplinary hearing held for the boy last month was unfair because the boy wasn’t allowed to present witnesses.
According to Bowlin, the only evidence against the student heard by the disciplinary hearing authority was testimony by Volunteer Principal Bobby Wines, who recounted the reports of two HCSO deputies rather than conduct his own investigation.
“He didn’t go out and interview the students,” Bowlin told the BOE. “He didn’t go out and interview the parents who were in the stands. We’ve interviewed them. We have conducted, and are in the process of conducting, our own investigation, and it’s not in line with the self-serving statements of law enforcement. What this board has the power to do is order an independent investigation as to what this young man did or didn’t do. What he didn’t do is what he’s criminally accused of.”
Bowlin said the disciplinary panel denied the student the opportunity to subpoena law enforcement officers or civilian witnesses, and he had no power to ask questions or present anything but his own statement — which Bowlin advised him not to do because he still faces the criminal charges.
“Before we could ask one question, Mr. Smith said, ‘That’s not what this is about,’ ” Bowlin told the board. “ ‘You don’t get the right to ask questions.’ When (the student’s mother) spoke and offered testimony after Mr. Wines had put on his testimony, his narrative of events he received from somebody else, guess what Mr. Smith turned and asked the members of the student disciplinary hearing authority? ‘Do you have any questions for her?’ And they asked questions. (The student) was not given the opportunity to ask one question.”
As for the board violating its own policies, Bowlin suggested it was no accident that the purpose of the special called meeting wasn’t published.
“I would imagine that if the purpose of this meeting had been published as required, that we would have more individuals here in this room this afternoon. ... If this board wants to take the position they’re going to proceed with a meeting that is highlighted and represented to be in violation of a policy they created, the board will lay on that bed.”