Grundy County High School's football team will play out the remainder of the season despite five players being held on house arrest after they were charged with attempted aggravated rape.
The students — a freshman, three juniors and a senior — are accused of attempting to rape a 15-year-old freshman with the metal handle of a dust mop in the school's football fieldhouse some time before 6 a.m. CDT on Wednesday.
During a special-called meeting Monday night, the school board voted 6-2 to allow the season to continue. The two "no" votes came from school board members Kasey Anderson and Chris Snyder.
At the beginning of the meeting, Director of Schools Jessie Kinsey addressed the lack of communication from school officials and what the administration's next steps would be.
"The board and school administration have been slow to comment on these allegations due to pending investigation and based on advice from counsel," she said. "We are as shocked as anyone that this happened in our community."
"We are better than this," she added. "Our children know better. Our families expect better. Our educators model better, and yet, apparently, something awful happened."
Kinsey said the school system is cooperating with local law enforcement officials and will thoroughly investigate the incident and look for steps to prevent similar acts of violence in the future.
"We intend to review policies, practices and procedures to see whether we need to revise school operations in light of this event," she said. "We intend to assess our schools' climate and culture to learn why students behave in such a deplorable way toward one of their own."
Grundy County school district attorney Chuck Cagle clarified the timeline of the school system's response to the incident the day after it was alleged to have happened. He said the incident had been reported to the principal at around 8:30 a.m., and by 8:50 a.m., the school resource officer was made aware. Interviews began with students by 9:50 a.m., and he said the sheriff's office was present at that time.
However, Grundy County Sheriff Clint Shrum said last week that the sheriff's office was not made aware of the incident until much later.
"At 1 p.m., the SRO realized it was more than he could handle, so he contacted me," Shrum said at a news conference.
Cagle said head coach Casey Tate was relieved of his coaching duties because of information they learned relating to the fieldhouse. It was not clear what that information was, other than that the doors were left unlocked, allowing students to enter. Tate is still teaching special education at the high school.
In further interviews, Cagle said investigators learned that the then-interim head coach Greg Brewer, who was an assistant coach, also had information relating to the use of the fieldhouse. That coach was also relieved of his coaching duties.
Then, late Friday afternoon, the school's football game against Upperman High School in Putnam County was canceled, Cagle said. The decision was made after considering the coach they'd be left with had never been a head coach and the group of players were rather young compared to the team they were up against.
The forfeiture of that game has a fee of about $2,500 in damages, Cagle said, because of a contract with Upperman High.
Before the board voted on the future of the school's football season, Cagle addressed the consequences if the board were to end the season, which has two games left.
"Should you decide to suspend the rest of your football season, then your men's basketball team would not be allowed to participate in tournament play," he said.
He added that it wasn't a decision the school board could make, but rather the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association.
Tensions peaked when the board began discussions regarding who would serve as coach of the football team if the season was allowed to continue. School board member Reuben Newsome said he thought the board should appoint the head coach, not Kinsey.
Cagle quickly reminded Newsome and the rest of the board that it cannot legally appoint or hire any personnel in the schools, including a football coach. Only the school director has the authority to do that.
Newsome responded, saying Kinsey had not taken the board's suggestions into consideration when they came to her with certain "situations" that had come up.
Kinsey said her problem with appointing a coach is that the people she was considering were not willing to take on the responsibility.
"Everybody that is involved is under investigation, and that's another issue," she said, adding that one person she has in mind needed to be certified.
Board members Anderson and Snyder said they "warned" Kinsey after a previous incident in which doors to athletic facilities were left unlocked and some boys got into a fight. Newsome said the board's and the athletic committee's recommendation to replace the entire coaching staff was ignored by Kinsey.
"This is not the first time something of this manner has happened," Anderson said. "We can't trust her."
Kinsey did not deny her decision to not replace the coaching staff and did not comment any further. Cagle later explained that the recommendation came after the coaching staff had already been hired last year.
"Once you employ teachers for the subsequent school year, in order to unemploy them, you have to fire them," he said. "All of this occurred at a time that it was very improbable it could have been done."
Cagle said he thinks Kinsey will appoint a coach at some point today for the boys to play at home Friday against Sequatchie County High School. It will be the school's senior night.
Earlier Monday, the accused students appeared in juvenile court. In a news conference, Shrum said it was still too early to know if they would be tried as adults.
During the students' arraignment, Judge William "Trey" Anderson set another court date and recused himself. The next court date is set for Nov. 15 at 9 a.m., but is subject to change due to the judge's recusal.
Barbara Peck, spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts, said Anderson recused himself because he has represented some of the parents of the defendants during his time as a private attorney, before he became a judge.
The Administrative Office of the Courts will look for another judge, and it will most likely be another juvenile court judge from a neighboring county. It will be decided later if the judge will travel to Grundy County or not, Peck said.
Twelfth Judicial District Assistant District Attorney David McGovern said he was not aware of any adults being charged in connection to the incident.
Before recusing himself, the judge ruled that the five accused students will remain on house arrest and receive homebound education.
"I think the mood of the county is a little bit of surprise," Shrum said. "But I think they're watching intently, I know there's some support both ways. It's just a tough time for everybody involved."
He said the sheriff's office is continuing to closely investigate whether adults knew of any hazing going on prior to last week's incident or if there was a history of sexual misconduct at the school. He added that the sheriff's office is not classifying the incident as hazing.
"It's an attempted aggravated rape — that's what they have been charged with," Shrum said. "Hazing is something that, I guess, the school classifies these actions as, but we don't classify it as hazing."
This story was updated Oct. 16 at 11:59 p.m. with more information.