Hearing concludes in case of former Amite superintendent

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 18, 2003

LIBERTY&045;In a four-day public hearing that concluded Wednesday, witnesses testified that former Amite County High School Principal Charlie Floyd did certify student records that contained unexplained grade changes.

Still, no evidence was produced that Floyd changed those grades or pressured anyone else to do so.

Floyd was suspended by the Amite County School Board on Oct. 10 after then-Interim Superintendent Mary Russ informed the board that she was investigating the grade changes.

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Inaccuracies in student records were mentioned in an Oct. 17 letter that Russ sent to Floyd explaining his suspension and in a letter dated Nov. 15 that upgraded Floyd’s suspension to a dismissal.

Floyd, who is seeking reinstatement, contends that he delegated the recordkeeping to the school’s guidance counselor and his dismissal is the result of Russ’ personal wish to have him removed.

On Wednesday Floyd’s attorney, Gregg Spyridon, asked current Superintendent Charles Kirkfield &045; who was a member of the school board when Floyd was suspended but abstained from that vote &045; to recall the board’s October session.

&uot;At the meeting on October 10, during open session or executive session, did Ms. Russ or anyone else suggest that Mr. Floyd changed the records?&uot; he asked.

Kirkfield paused for a few seconds and asked that the question be repeated.

Hearing Officer Perry Sansing then called Spyridon and school district attorney Jim Keith to the bench for a sidebar conference before allowing the question to be posed to Kirkfield again.

&uot;To the best of my knowledge, no accusation was made toward Mr. Floyd.

There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then,&uot; Kirkfield said.

&uot;I did not concur in the vote (to remove Floyd)Š.I think the feeling of the board was that it was a punitive action,&uot; he said.

Spyridon noted Floyd was the only ACHS staff member who was disciplined as a result of Russ’ investigation and asked Kirkfield what conduct the board was addressing when it suspended Floyd.

&uot;I believe the word ‘intimidation’ was used,&uot; said Kirkfield, adding that Russ suggested Floyd was impeding her investigation with intimidation, and she needed him removed &uot;to have better access to the records.&uot;

The day after the board suspended Floyd, an area newspaper reported a source close to the situation said Floyd was accused of fixing students’ grades in an attempt to get them admitted to the University of Mississippi.

After defeating Russ in an election for school superintendent in November, Kirkfield said he also investigated the grade changes and did find alterations in one student’s record suspicious.

&uot;Definitely, there was one student record that was intentionally misrepresented,&uot; he said.

That record belonged to a student athlete whose transcripts included unexplained handwritten changes that prompted coaches at the University of Mississippi to contact the school last summer and request a clarification of the record, according to Russ’ earlier testimony.

Kirkfield said two teachers were involved in making those changes after that student had graduated.

One of those teachers, Christine Spears, a 33-year veteran of ACHS, testified earlier that she changed one course grade for the student after the student contacted the school.

Kirkfield said he found no evidence in his investigation that Floyd changed any records, and he attributed the majority of errors found in student records to problems with a new computer system that was installed in 1999.

&uot;This was a new program.

Nobody new what was going on.

We went to all kinds of workshops,&uot; Kirkfield said.

But under Keith’s cross-examination, Kirkfield admitted that such errors as failing to complete the high school summary of units, neglecting to initial hand-written changes and allowing students to graduate without taking required courses are all human faults&045;not computer glitches.

Russ, Kirkfield and Mary Ann Moore, director of the Mississippi Department of Education’s Office of Accreditation, all testified that school principals are responsible ensuring the accuracy of student records when they certify the records for graduation.

Spyridon argued that when a principal makes that certification, it would be physically impossible to verify all the information contained in the record.

The Rev. Larry Oliver, principal at neighboring Wilkinson County High School, testified earlier that he also relies on his guidance counselor to provide him with accurate records to certify for graduation.

Russ also mentioned improperly fining students for tobacco use among other reasons for Floyd’s dismissal in her November 15 letter.

Floyd contends that the school’s tobacco fines policy was initiated prior to his administration.

Spears supported that contention in her testimony.

&uot;We knew about it and we talked about it among teachers,&uot; said Spears.

Investigators from the state’s Department of Education documented an array of problems&045;including the unexplained grade changes and tobacco fines&045;during a December audit of the school district.

Still, both Kirkfield and Spears said the school was better off with Floyd as principal.

&uot;I don’t know what he has done.

I know he had order.

We had order in the school,&uot; said Spears, who described the climate at ACHS since Floyd’s removal as &uot;utter hell.&uot;

After the court reporter transcribes an estimated 1000 pages of testimony in the hearing, Sansing will then have 30 days to report to the school board.

Spyridon and Keith both said they would offer opinions to Sansing later this week on whether he should include any recommendations to the school board.

If Floyd is not satisfied with the board’s ruling, he may then appeal to chancery court.