Appeal denied for fired principal caught on video dragging student
Former Walter Hill Principal Helen Campbell lost her appeal to reverse a firing decision to the Rutherford County Board of Education in a 4-2 vote on Tuesday evening, with one abstention.
Campbell was appealing to reverse two previous decisions:
the board's May 2022, 4-2 vote to fire her for "unprofessional conduct" stemming from a 2019 incident of dragging a special education fifth-grade boy by ankles by 560 feet, more than the length of a football field, down a hallway with special education teacher Bonnie Marlar; the educators relocated the 10-year-old child from the front office to a "calming room" on the back side of the school;
and an independent impartial hearing officer from Memphis deciding in November after two days of a hearing in September to uphold what the elected school officials decided.
The school officials considered video evidence of Campbell dragging the child. The board also heard compelling arguments from her attorney Scott Kimberly suggesting that Campbell was not provided with proper guidance on what to do with a child known for violent outbursts.
Many in audience seats at a meeting with about 80 people applauded the points made in defense of Campbell. She sat in the middle with her husband to watch.
Board member Claire Maxwell had previously voted against firing Campbell in May but joined the majority decision Tuesday.
"I am determined to make sure something like this never happens again," Maxwell said after the meeting. "We need to support our teachers and our students. This board is determined that we have clear guidelines to protect the students and the teachers."
Board Vice Chairman Caleb Tidwell abstained. He appeared to be emotional in questioning if the district had proper guidelines for Campbell to follow.
Chairman Tammy Sharp voted like she did in May against the decision to fire Campbell.
Fellow board member Katie Darby also questioned if the district had proper guidelines to follow in voting against confirming the previous decision to fire the former principal.
Board member Coy Young called for the vote to uphold the previous decisions and had the backing of Frances Rosales, Maxwell and Shelia Bratton, who in May abstained from voting because she said she was a friend of the Campbell family.
The board also heard legal arguments from district general counsel Monika Ridley. She told the elected school officials that Campbell had completed Crisis Prevention Institute training. The training allows two faculty members to relocate a child by escorting on either side of the student as long as the boy's feet remain on the floor. If the student drops to the floor like the fifth-grader did, the educators are supposed to let go of the student and back away rather than drag the boy through the school and cause minor injuries, Ridley told the school officials.
Rosales said after the meeting she based much of her vote on nearly 1,000 pages of evidence gathered from the two days of hearings by the independent hearing officer.
Transcripts show that Director James "Jimmy" Sullivan supports the previous decision by former Director Bill Spurlock to suspend Campbell without pay and the recommendation to the board to fire campbell.
“Based on what I saw on the video, the student was not a danger to himself or others," Sullivan testified. “He seemed non compliant, but that still would not have excused dragging a student that far.”
Rosales said records show that Campbell had faced felony charges with tampering with the video evidence in the school's server room where the security footage is located.
Rosales during Tuesday's board meeting mentioned observing an experienced special education teacher dealing with a challenging student with special needs by stepping back before making a decision on what the next steps should be.
"We need to support all of the teachers by providing them with the tools and options to use when dealing with special needs behavioral issues," Rosales said after the meeting.
The two-hour meeting was a special-called meeting with the appeal as the only item on the agenda.
Special education teacher Marlar, who assisted Campbell during the 2019 incident involving a child, was also charged.
An arrest warrant, based on video evidence, accused the Walter Hill educators of dragging a 10-year-old boy by the ankles through a long school hallway and causing minor injuries to the child on Nov. 4, 2019. A lawsuit filed against the educators in 2020 revealed the child has autism.
Campbell appealed a previous 4-2 board vote in May to fire her based on recommendation of former Schools Director Spurlock. The elected school officials had decided that Campbell should lose her job based on “unprofessional conduct, conduct unbecoming to a member of the teaching profession, insubordination and neglect of duty.”
Three new board members won election since the past vote: Rosales, Tidwell and Darby.
Charges were initially dismissed February 2020 by General Sessions Court Judge Lisa Eischeid because there was no proof of injury to the child, said Kimberly, the attorney representing Campbell.
Both educators, however, then faced grand jury indictments a few months later accusing them with child abuse/neglect and endangerment pertaining to a child over 8. Campbell also faced a Class C felony charge of tampering with video evidence. The former principal's charge, however, was amended to attempted destruction of government records, a Class A misdemeanor.
Both educators accepted unsupervised probation rather than pursue jury trials and were eligible for diversion from Circuit Court Judge James "Jimmy" Turner.
Those eligible for judicial diversion cannot have a prior criminal record. Anyone completing probation while on judicial diversion can have cases dismissed and records expunged by a judge. If they do not complete probation conditions or face new charges, they can be brought back before the judge and found guilty and sentenced on original charges.
Judge Turner rejected dismissal of Campbell's case.
A year ago, Campbell pled no contest to the charges and accepted two years of unsupervised probation and judicial diversion. She's scheduled to serve the second year of probation on the attempted destruction of government records charge from Jan. 31, 2023, to Jan. 30, 2024.
The probation charges also means that Campbell will face automatic revocation of her teacher license based on being "convicted of child neglect of a minor over 8 years old" and "destruction of government records," according to a Feb. 10 meeting agenda of the Tennessee State Board of Education. A teacher who has had a license revoked can apply with the board five years later to request reactivation of the license, which the board considers on a case by case basis. A teacher with a revoked license is unable to work at public schools, including charter schools.
Marlar was scheduled to complete her unsupervised probation on Oct. 14, 2022, after pleading no contest and accepting judicial diversion from Judge Turner on Oct. 15, 2021.
Campbell served as Walter Hill principal from the start of the 2013-14 school year until she was suspended without pay in November 2019 by the schools director. Spurlock then appointed Laura Heath to serve as interim principal until the investigation was completed.
Spurlock, the former director, also disciplined Marlar with an unpaid suspension. Her contract was later not renewed as a teacher without tenure, which provides extra job security. Campbell had tenure and remained initially on unpaid suspension.
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This article originally appeared on Murfreesboro Daily News Journal: Appeal denied for former principal caught on video dragging student