School board votes to release report detailing investigation into Ooltewah High School

School board votes to release report detailing investigation into Ooltewah High School

August 19th, 2016 by Kendi A. Rainwater in Local Regional News

Hamilton County Department of Education Interim Superintendent, Kirk Kelly (right), makes a point while Chief Academic Officer, Jill Levine, looks on. Members of the Hamilton County Department of Education visited the Chattanooga Times Free Press to discuss goals for the 2016 school year.

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

A report detailing a private attorney's investigation into Ooltewah High School is expected to be released today after the Hamilton County Board of Education voted Thursday night to make it public.

In the wake of the rape of an Ooltewah High School freshman, allegedly by three of his basketball teammates, the board commissioned Courtney Bullard, a local private attorney with experience in Title IX compliance, to investigate the school.

The Office of Civil Rights requires school systems to conduct investigations after such incidents and develop plans to prevent similar problems.

The report was previously sealed under attorney-client privilege, but the board voted unanimously — and without discussion — to release it.

Thursday night's meeting marks the last for this school board, as three new members will be sworn in Sept. 1 after defeating Donna Horn, George Ricks and Chairman Jonathan Welch in the Aug. 4 election. The only incumbent to hold her seat in the election was Rhonda Thurman, who has represented District 1 for 12 years.

Horn, Ricks and Welch were each honored Thursday and thanked for their service by Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly.

The first voting meeting of the new board is scheduled for Sept. 13, with Joe Wingate, Tiffanie Robinson and Kathy Lennon taking seats at the dais.

The board also voted Thursday to approve Kelly's request to hire a communications coordinator, with school board members Joe Galloway, David Testerman, Karitsa Mosley, Horn, Ricks and Welch voting in favor.

The coordinator will have the responsibility of assisting the central office and the chairman with fielding media requests, and also will be responsible for communicating internally with teachers and administrators across the district, Welch said.

Many on the board voiced support for the position, saying they want this person to help change the public's perception of the district by getting more positive stories into the media.

What is going on in Hamilton County Schools is much more positive than what media reports, Galloway said.

Mosley agreed, saying that many in her community, District 5, feel like they're poorly represented.

"This is a needed position, there are a lot of the things going on and you only hear about the negative, and we need someone to speak up for us," she said.

Highlander questioned the expense of adding another position inside the central office. And Martin said the position may be needed, but he wants the board to focus first on selecting a permanent superintendent.

Thurman was on the board when it previously had a communications director years ago, and she said having the position did not improve the school system.

"I think honesty is the best policy, and I just tell people what's going on and am honest about it," she said.

She warned the board that a communications director may try to prevent the board from talking.

"I'm sorry, but I'm not good at that," she said. "If I know something and someone in my district calls and asks, I'm going to tell them."

The board also voted to change its current policy regarding the selection of a chairman, as both the chairman and vice chairman will be replaced next month. Under the new policy, Thurman, the longest-serving board member, will serve as temporary chairwoman until someone is selected to lead the new board on Sept. 13.

At the end of the meeting, Ricks asked the board to vote to send a resolution to the Hamilton County Commission asking it to fund or partner with others to build a new stadium and track at The Howard School. The board voted 8-1 in support, with Thurman voting against.

"Thank you all for this going-away present," Ricks said with a large grin after the vote.

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at 423-757-6592 or krainwater@timesfreepress.com. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.

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