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Grievance Filed Against Kenned-Powell Elementary School in Temple, Texas

behalf of our daughter, Lauren Burgess.

On November 9th, 2007, at Kennedy-Powell Elementary School in Temple, Texas, during a music class instructed by Dr. Cecilia Hudgens and aided by Mr. Lightfoot, approximately 40 students were subjected to an incident of excessive discipline, which we believe to be the institution of corporal punishment.

According to State mandates, there are a specific requirements in reference to the amount of time in a given school week that students are required to be involved in “P.E. activities,” and so a “dance movement” video was being played in order to help fulfill that requirement.

During the class the students were €œmisbehaving€ (according to Principal Melissa Harper and Dr. Hudgens) and the video was stopped so that there could be a redirection€ of activity. According to the investigation we have conducted, one of two timeline scenarios took place therein:

The [Fit Kids] video was shown for approximately 20 seconds to 1 minute before the teacher “redirected” the students to do push-ups for the remainder of the class, which continued for an estimated 15-25 minutes.

The [Fit kids] video was shown for approximately 15 minutes and a redirection was ordered toward push-ups for the remainder of the class, which continued for an estimated 5-10 minutes.

In either case, the students were exerted beyond a safe potential for their physical capacity. Also, the following consistencies exist:

One child has been identified by several students as the behavioral problem which led to the disciplinary action.

Students reported to their parents on the day in question (and in some cases for 2 days following) that their €œarms were sore from doing so many push-ups in Music Class,€ and they did over 100 push-ups each, without the opportunity for a break.

The teacher was angry and punished them for bad behavior by ordering them to do an unspecified amount of push-ups.

The above mentioned incident is one of two complaints we have with the Temple Independent School District. According to TISD and Kennedy-Powell Elementary Regulations, Codes of Conduct, and Policies, Dr. Hudgens is in violation of the Corporal Punishment Statutes. It is also speculated that Mr. Lightfoot became present and privy to this incident shortly after class began. When asked by a student as to how many push-ups were to be done, Mr. Lightfoot inquired with Dr. Hudgens who was in a closet in the classroom, and received the reply, “I didn’t tell them how many to do, I just told them to keep going.”

Mr. Lightfoot, as a responsible adult and professional, should have recognized this as a non-compliance and/or a direct disregard of the Code of Conduct. Further, Dr. Hudgens, an individual who is not certified, licensed, or educated in the Physical Education of children or any related P.E. field, was forcing children to conduct activities which could be harmful to them even if properly supervised. Dr. Hudgens was acting obstinately to that point; she was in a closet, not monitoring or supervising this activity when Mr. Lightfoot entered.

The second complaint we have with this incident is the manner in which, and urgency with which, the matter has been handled, or lack thereof. As stated, the incident took place on November 9th, 2007. An initial inquiry into this matter from a parent was ignored. It wasn’t until 7 business days following the incident, on November 26th, when a further exploratory initiative was taken by the parent to seek a response, that yielded a dismissive and lackadaisical counter.

On November 28th, we were contacted by the concerned parent who explained the situation to us, which prompted us to conduct our own inquiry. On Thursday, November 29th, I [Stephen Runyan] went to the school in the morning to meet with the Principal, Melissa Harper. According to what Mrs. Harper told me, she had investigated the incident by speaking to “the adults involved,” and that apparently there had been €œ4 warnings and 3 redirections. Also the activity in the classroom that day was a €œdance movement” video called Fit Kids, and the push-ups in question were “a transition to another exercise” that the class was doing that day, €œnot a punishment.

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I requested a meeting with Dr. Hudgens, and Mrs. Harper consented on the condition that it was to take place between herself, Dr. Hudgens, and my wife and myself in Mrs. Harper’€™s office. The meeting was scheduled for around 1:00 that same afternoon.

When we met with Dr. Hudgens and Mrs. Harper, we had a series of questions to ask, in order to determine the facts of the incident. Unfortunately, and unlike the consistencies on behalf of the students€™ story, some answers were inconsistent with what Mrs. Harper had previously explained and were also not conducive to the acquiescence of an imminent solution.

When asked how push-ups were a “transition to another exercise” while watching a “dance movement” video, Dr. Hudgens replied that it was not so much of a transition from a dance movement exercise, and indicated that “the children were misbehaving, so I [Dr. Hudgens] had them do push-ups.€ We also led into what was the perception of anger and yelling from Dr. Hudgens, by the students, and that it €œseemed to the kids that you were mad. Dr. Hudgens answered, “I was mad.”€ In this case, we believe that Dr. Hudgens acted with emotion, rather than validation, which clouded her judgement and caused her to make an irrational decision which placed the welfare of children in jeopardy, and could have potentially subjected the children in that class to superfluous, long term, bodily injury.

Following our meeting with Mrs. Harper and Dr. Hudgens, we met with and called other parents who have implied that Dr. Hudgens has a history of degrading, berating, and otherwise verbally abusing the children under her vise. Through additional contact with the school and with parents, it became known that Dr. Hudgens has apparently had €œsomething put into writing and placed into her personnel file;€ the simplest details of which have not been disclosed to any involved parent.

The following week, we contacted the Principal to request the video that was shown that day, in order to provide a timeline for how long the children were watching the video before they were told to do push-ups. Initially, Mrs. Harper happily agreed to send the video home with our daughter. We then proceeded to contact the Superintendent’€™s office, and were told that Dr. Maribel was €œout visiting campuses that morning, and that a message would be left for her to return the call.

Within one hour of that call, Mrs. Harper called back and requested that we come to the school to view the video. As personal scheduling restricted that from being a possibility, Mrs. Harper again agreed to send the video home with our daughter. Within 2 hours of that call, Dr. Maribel called back and offered an apology for the incident that took place, and made assurances, as the Principal had done previously, that “this will not happen again.€ As the conversation was coming to a close, Dr. Maribel stated that she thought it was ok for us to view the video.€ However, there was never any mention that we requested the video from the school, and she was asked how she happened upon this information. Dr. Maribel mentioned something about a note that may have been left for John Hancock that she saw, and that Mrs. Harper may have just been calling to ask if it would be permissible for us to view the video. Again, we have yet another inconsistency in the Administration’€™s story:

The incident had gone from complete denial of an “incident” with the Principal, to an incident occurring and an assurance that it would not happen again, to the incident being an action taken due to rage and stress, to an apology for the incident having taken place.

As Dr. Maribel stated, she [Mrs. Harper] may have just been calling to ask for permission.€ However, it is our Parental Right to view all materials used in the curriculum and so either the Principal doesn’€™t have the basic fundamentals of her occupational responsibilities (i.e. Parental Rights) known as well as they should be, or the Administration has been underhandedly collaborating unbeknownst to the parents. If Mrs. Harper is qualified, how is it that she doesn’t know enough about Parental Rights? If she does know, why was a call made to the Superintendent’€™s Office? Why would she need to ask for permission when she initially (and immediately) confirmed that she would be sending the video home? And lastly, if she wasn’€™t asking for permission, why did Dr. Maribel lie?

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The answer, unfortunately, is simple. Since this incident, the Administration has been running a disinformation campaign; from not returning phone calls, to telling some parents one thing to telling others another, to changing their story and shifting blame, to deflecting rather than absorbing responsibility by treating concerned parents as over-reactors, to denials of the incident and refusals of apology for any number of excuses.

In addition, Mrs. Harper has admitted to calling students out of class, so that she can question them in reference to this incident. She claims that, according to the students with whom she spoke, it was light-hearted fun and some of the children were joking and having contests and many would do a few push-ups and then stop and take a break and joke and laugh. Mrs. Harper paints a playful picture that Dr. Hudgens would have previously described as €œchaos.€ Also, Dr. Hudgens states that the students’ behavior was €œdisruptive€ and to be categorized as €œmisbehaving.€ Yet now we have that same behavior acceptable once they don’€™t do the push-ups they were told to do? How is any of that acceptable all of a sudden? Our first problem is with this additional inconsistency, as well as with Mrs. Harper’€™s interrogation techniques witnessed by another parent as “leading” and “suggestive,” rather than exploratory and vague, so as to remain neutral and understand all perspectives of the incident. We also don’€™t understand why random children are being brought to the Principal’€™s Office without Parental consent or at least notification. Instead, the Principal is making tremendous strides to conceal this incident.

Furthermore, we are dissatisfied with the amount of attention and triviality with which this situation has been given by the Temple School Board. Mary Klentzman was very cooperative and cordial. She agreed to meet with us concerning this matter and a date was set to discuss her perspective of our investigation, and also to discuss our Rights concerning this matter, and also the specifics as to how to procedurally conduct a grievance. Since Mrs. Klentzman was not the Representative for our District, Jerry Pickle was also notified, and asked to appear at the meeting. Before hearing any of our concerns, Mr. Pickle flatly stated that he would not be privy to any “prior knowledge€ of the incident, and plainly refused to accept the invitation. With no regard for his constituency, Mr. Pickle denied us the Right to know anything beyond €œfile a grievance. Understandably, Mr. Pickle has a responsibility to not have his vote swayed from prior knowledge related to the incident, but he would not hear any of our requests or reasons for a meeting, nor was he not already privy to information concerning the incident which therefore negates his rationale for not appearing. Mr. Pickle needed no explanation of what it was we were calling about, and seemed quite familiar with the incident. In addition, his remarks were indicative of this action/non-action being a policy, but when pressed about Mrs. Klentzman’s participation said that he just “won’t become involved in it. Is this the proper policy, thereby indicating that Mrs. Klentzman was prepared to violate School Board Policy, or did Mr. Pickle have alternate interests in not hearing about this incident? We believe that it should be the responsibility and obligation of any elected Official to meet with their Constituents upon request, at the earliest convenience, concerning matters relative to their respective authority. The issue which required guidance involved how the grievance process worked, specifically with whom the grievances are to be filed, the different levels and sequence which needs to be followed, and other items relating to filing complaints and grievances against those who fall in the direct line of where grievances are placed, as well as other minor issues that we felt needed attention. Mr. Pickle categorically refused to cooperate in providing any official support, which we believe should be part of his duties.

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This issue has been a problem because of everyone involved, from the teacher (and possibly the teacher’€™s aide), to the Principal, School Administrators, Superintendent, and some Members of the School Board, all of whom have been uncooperative in ascertaining the truth, but who have remained vigilant in ensuring that this complaint is dealt with in the most subtle capacity, and with as much ambiguity as possible so as to deter any proper finality from coming to fruition.

Alarmingly, Kennedy-Powell Elementary has a new Principal, and also a new, Interim Superintendent, neither of whom seem interested in following procedure, directly addressing matters of importance and being forthright in that endeavor, reaching out to parents concerning grave events, or enforcing regulations. These traits in leaders have cultivated an atmosphere of bedlam where teachers will believe that they can violate any regulation they see fit; Mrs. Harper and Dr. Maribel would sooner cover this blemish with a veil, rather than come down on it with a hammer, to make a statement that this activity will not be tolerated during their duty. Most importantly, we believe that Mrs. Harper is much more concerned with protecting her Faculty and Staff, rather than ensuring the best interests of innocent children.

It is therefore our recommendation that the following actions take place:

An investigation be conducted into the status of Mr. Lightfoot’s role in the incident and appropriate action be taken to coincide with that determination.

Dr. Hudgens€™ personnel file be opened to determine if there is a history of associative behavior and if so, that she be dismissed from duty immediately; or if not, for her resignation to be accepted and any benefits of retirement to commence immediately.

Melissa Harper be reprimanded for her conduct in the handling of this situation, and that she be dismissed as the Principal of Kennedy-Powell Elementary School.

Dr. Maribel be reprimanded for her conduct in the handling of this situation, and that she be dismissed as the Superintendent of Schools for the Temple Independent School District.

The School Board recognize that bureaucratic indignation has impelled delay, thus endangering what might be progressive aggression by a professional who is potentially a temperament risk, and that an immediate apology be issued in writing to each parent of the students involved, as well as a formal, public apology by the School Board to the City of Temple, printed in the Temple Daily Telegram.

As long as the Temple Independent School District does not support Corporal Punishment as a means by which we discipline our students, then the teacher is in violation of that rule, and the Administration is guilty of aiding the cover-up of that incident, and not being as forthcoming as they should be with the parents, who have the Right to know. In the future, especially in the case where a teacher has had “something put into writing,€ parents should be notified if it has in any way involved their child. An expedient and effective way to make this problem go away, would have been to assume responsibility and apologize for it. Ironically, a completely different approach was taken where a lack of truth in its entirety took place, and as a result, caused more problems than needed to be in the first place; and haphazard decisions such as that must be dealt with in a clear and decisive manner.