Robin Smith: What Hamilton County Schools got wrong about Ooltewah

Robin Smith: What Hamilton County Schools got wrong about Ooltewah

Lessons from Ooltewah: credibility doesn't come with a refill

January 11th, 2016 by Robin Smith in Opinion Free Press Commentary

Hamilton County School Board Chairman Jonathan Welch, center, reads a prepared statement to an overflow crowd Wednesday night as Schools Superintendent Rick Smith, left, listens.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

People are pretty good at discerning hypocrisy and inconsistency, especially in elected officials, which cultivates their distrust and cynicism. The bungled handling of the Ooltewah High School basketball rape investigation — and the vehement public reaction to it — has provided a textbook lesson on what not to do.

To his credit, on Sunday, Jonathan Welch, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Education, acknowledged, appropriately, the missteps that have plagued the board and administration since three Ooltewah High basketball players were charged with aggravated rape and aggravated assault in connection with a Dec. 22 brutal attack against a freshman teammate in Gatlinburg.

"I came up short and I apologize. I will do better," Welch wrote in a statement.

Welch came up short when he and the board listened solely to those who viewed this horrific episode as a legal matter to manage rather than acknowledging a 15-year-old was harmed on a taxpayer-supported trip while under the supposed supervision of taxpayer-funded personnel representing a taxpayer-funded institution.

Silence from the board and administration — in the absence of a broad gag order — was the wrong approach.

School district attorney Scott Bennett noted that law enforcement officials and prosecutors of the district attorneys' offices from both Sevier County — the jurisdiction of the crime — and Hamilton County have "told the school district not to conduct its own investigation" and that our local school district officials "were advised not to comment."

Those statements were made after a four-minute school board meeting last Wednesday night.

We should all be relieved law enforcement is leading the "ongoing" investigation. The depravity exposed in this situation should be dealt with as swiftly as possible, with appropriate remedy provided to the victim and appropriate punishment given to the juveniles charged.

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith said last Wednesday that "no evidence any adult acted improperly" has been found thus far. Yet, at the very same meeting, school board members listened as Welch read from a prepared statement: "The public is looking for answers and, unfortunately, we won't have any tonight."

Let's see. A 15-year-old was raped with a pool cue so violently by three of his teammates that his bowel and bladder were ruptured. And the public is told, essentially, "Don't worry. Grown-ups in the education system did their jobs." So the "ongoing" investigation already has cleared the adults?

Yeah, that's our priority. Citizens want assurances adults have been oblivious to heinous behavior to protect their employment, tenure and benefits.

That law enforcement is leading this investigation establishes one thing about this criminal matter: From this point forward, all updates will be provided by law enforcement in Sevier and Hamilton counties.

On a policy level, the Hamilton County Department of Education distributes a "Parental/Student Notification Form" annually that must be signed and returned to the school. The document addresses "Code of Conduct," "Zero Tolerance Offenses" and other topics related to conduct on school (i.e., taxpayer-owned) property. Violence, bullying and assault are listed among acts punishable by expulsion or short-term or long-term suspension.

Existing policies — that "each school administration shall ensure that the contents are understood by students attending their school" — are in place.

The school district attorney may want silence but the public needs answers on the failure of the enforcement of policies to protect students. Remember, credibility and trust do not come with a refill.

Robin Smith, a former chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party, is owner of Rivers Edge Alliance.

More Ooltewah rape case stories

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com


Loading...