The parents of a Jenkins Middle High School student say their son has been forced to do physical exercises he is unable to perform as a manner of corporal punishment.
Members of the Jenkins Independent Board of Education heard the complaint from McRoberts residents Mike and Elizabeth Williams at the board’s December meeting this week. The Williamses told the board their son had been placed in the Alternative Education class because he had retaliated against another student after being slapped and punched, and was then subjected to excessive exercise as a form of corporal punishment. Mrs. Williams told the board that her son has a movement difficulty and was reduced to tears by the exercise as well as receiving injuries from it. She passed out pictures of what she referred to as severe bruising on his sides to board members. The exercises in question were “jumping jacks” and leg lifts.
Board Chairman Durward Narramore Jr. told the Williamses that by Kentucky statutes, the board cannot discuss a complaint against classified (teachers and others licensed by the state) personnel unless that person is present to defend himself or herself after Mike Williams asked the board to go into executive session to discuss the matter. Narramore also said he did not believe the matter warranted executive session status and that discussing it at all without the teacher present could expose both the board and the Williamses to possible legal action. He added that in any event, faculty discipline is the purview of the superintendent and that the board has little leeway in such matters.
“Classified staff have protection under the law,” said Narramore. “I’m trying to protect you, too. I can’t listen to accusations against classified staff unless they are here to defend themselves.” Narramore told the Williamses that if they wished to proceed, no names could be used except for those present at the meeting.
Elizabeth Williams, who teaches in the Letcher County System, told the board she had reported the matter to Jenkins Middle High School Principal Lisa Carroll and Superintendent Deborah Watts. She said when her husband asked Mrs. Watts two weeks later if any action had been taken, Watts said that so far, no investigation had taken place. However, Watts said the matter had been investigated and appropriate action had been taken.
Watts said she was also under legal constraints as to how far she could go in discussing the matter in a public forum, but that she had done a complete investigation and that changes had been made in the exercise program in AE. She added that exercise was never meant as a punitive measure, but that AE students were separated from their classmates and were in a confined situation where they needed some movement and exercise during the day. Watts said that was as far as she could go in discussing her conversation with the teacher publicly, but reiterated that a complete investigation had been conducted and changes had been made.
Mrs. Williams said she had been told that other students have been exposed to excessive exercise since and said when she was first notified that her son had been placed in AE, Principal Carroll told her that “AE would not be pleasant.” She said she had met with Carroll who told her the school had to do something for discipline.
“AE is for punishment,” said Carroll.
Mike Williams told the board that corporal punishment is forbidden according to the Jenkins Handbook, and said that excessive exercise falls under the definition of corporal punishment. Elizabeth Williams added that the teacher in question had also asked several disturbing questions to her son such as “Are you happy at home?” and “Do Mom and Dad kiss you goodnight when you go to bed?”
Superintendent Watts again said that a full investigation had taken place and she had personally supervised it to see that every step was followed according to legal and Kentucky Department of Education policies. She said she spoke to the teacher and they changed a few things about the program.
“I dealt with it internally,” said Watts. She added that she would provide a list of changes to the Williams family.
Mike Williams told the board that there was nothing more to be done about the matter and added that both he and his mother were Jenkins High School graduates and said he hopes his son will be able to complete his high school education at Jenkins as well. He said he hopes that no action will be taken in retaliation against his son because he and his wife spoke out.
“I would hate to think he would be singled out,” said Williams. “That’s all I’m asking. I don’t want any kind of retribution. I want my son to be able to go to school and not be bullied and to get an education. I want him to go to school and learn and he wants to go to school here. I’m hopeful this won’t happen to any other kid that goes to AE.”
In other business, the board approved the District Technology Plan and voted unanimously to match the state’s “technology offer” of just over $7,000 with technology funding from the system. Technology Director Damien Johnson told the board he attended a DataSeam Winter Session in December and received five new Apple workstations for attending. Jenkins is a partner with DataSeam in the program which provides free Apple computers for the school system in exchange for allowing the computers to be used during off hours by DataSeam for its own work via network technology.