School board member raises questions about promotion
by TOM DOTY
and MARY MUSIC
MARTIN - One of the defendants in the lawsuit brought by parents of May Valley Elementary special education students who alleged mistreatment of their children at the hands of a teacher's aide has been promoted.
Tanya Williams, former assistant principal at the school who was listed as a defendant in the May Valley abuse case in 2003, is now serving as the school's principal. She replaces interim principal Fonzo Akers, who took principal Carole Combs' position after she retired this year.
"I thought the board had a nepotism policy," board member Mickey McGuire said yesterday. "Five or six of her family members work at May Valley."
Williams' promotion came after the board spent "millions," according to McGuire, in a confidential settlement agreement in January against her and six other employees at the school, including now retired principal Carole Combs.
McGuire, who said he's been "threatened" by the board to release any information regarding the suit, initiated a brief but heated discussion about the hiring - without mentioning Williams' name - during the school board meeting Monday night.
"We don't need to hide our head in the sand on this," McGuire said, asserting his opinion that it isn't right for the board to promote an employee that, he said, cost the district "millions" as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Carol Stumbo said, "It's easy to make accusations without one shred of proof."
Board member Sherry Robinson argued that the board currently has "no system of checks and balances" on site-based committee elections and actions. The school site-based council oversees hirings and firings at the school.
At the meeting, McGuire, questioning the logic behind Williams' appointment, challenged the board to do something about site-based council elections.
McGuire implied that site-based councils are unchecked and that it appears that positions on such councils are often given out and that restrictions may be necessary. He further argued that the board should have representatives at the elections but was shot down by Supt. Dr. Paul Fanning, who argued that such a presence by the board at elections could be seen as interfering.
The issue seemed to divide the board with members Dr. Chandra Varia and Robinson agreeing with McGuire while Carol Stumbo and and Jeff Stumbo appeared to want to table the issue for later discussion.
McGuire noted, "I think it shows corruption in our system. It's very disturbing."
The lawsuit, filed by Prestonsburg attorney Ned Pillersdorf, targeted Marty Mullins, 33, a former instructional aide accused of abusing seven behavioral disorder students between January and September 2003. It also named Williams, as vice principal, former principal Combs, three May valley staff members and two unspecified school employees.
Students, ranging in age from 5 to 11, allege that school officials were aware of and "deliberately indifferent" to a brutal campaign of mental and physical abuse inflicted on them by Mullins, who now faces criminal charges for the alleged incidents.
The children all claim to have witnessed or experienced Mullins, shove, push, kick, punch, pinch, twist their arms behind their backs, twist their wrists, use pressure points to bring them to their knees, slam them against walls, sit on them or lock them in the bathroom as punishment.
One 11-year-old claimed that "Mr. Mullins has made many threats to cut my [expletive deleted] head off."
The student reported the alleged abuse to his teachers, including special education teacher Mattie Donta. Donta did not respond to the complaint and Mullins denied the abuse, the lawsuit claimed.
On at least six occasions either one of the children or the child and a parent reported abuse to Combs and/or Williams, the suit says. The alleged victims claim principal Combs refused to investigate, saying that Mullins was "like a big teddy bear" and that he "loves kids".
Combs and Williams allegedly told the student's mother they were "tired" of the complaints and that they did not believe the reports.
"I'm sure they [my clients] are disappointed," Pillersdorf said yesterday. "We wouldn't have filed a lawsuit against Mr. Mullins if we felt there were no basis to do so. We dismissed several defendants out of the lawsuit, including Dr. Fanning, but we did not dismiss her [Williams]. We settled all claims and she only left when the case was resolved."
Part of the settlement in the case specified a call for change in incident report filing procedures.
The Floyd County Times has filed a second open records request with the board of education to view the mutual release and settlement agreement from this lawsuit. The board contends that the compensatory damages awarded to the seven families affiliated with the lawsuit are confidential.
But former Attorney General Ben Chandler and his assistant, James M. Ringo, filed an opinion on August 30, 2001, saying that a school district settlement, sealed or unsealed, is public record and cannot be withheld from public disclosure.
Supt. Paul Fanning was not available for comment yesterday.
Williams did not return inquiry calls.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Wayne Taylor said yesterday that criminal allegations against Mullins have not yet been presented to a grand jury.
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