Former Williamson County School of Board candidate and outspoken textbook reform activist Laurie Cardoza-Moore is leading concerned Williamson Country residents in calling for WCS Superintendent Mike Looney to step down.
Cardoza-Moore and the quickly organized informal group have asked the Williamson County District Attorney’s office to launch a full and thorough investigation into a bizarre incident that resulted in Looney being charged with the assault of a student last week.
A public meeting of the Williamson County School Board is scheduled for 6:30 pm tonight in Franklin to discuss the Looney situation.
“This past week, a criminal charge was filed against Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney following an incident at Franklin High School,” Cardoza-Moore said in a detailed statement Monday morning:
Given public statements by Williamson County School Board members, one has to question their level of objectivity and if they see their primary role as defending their employee at all costs or seeking the whole truth, not just Looney’s version of it. If you have been trusting your elected board members to hold their employee accountable, you may want to start paying closer attention.
Mike Looney, the director of WCS should be held to the same professional standards as teachers in situations involving criminal accusations of inappropriate student contact. A well-publicized recent case is that of former WCS teacher Melanie Lemon. According to a school district report sent to the State Department of Education, Lemon was suspended without pay last April while being investigated for allegedly harming a child. Lemon’s suspension stemmed from a parent claiming they saw Lemon grab a student in a hallway and force their arms down while saying, “Stop it, stop it, stop it.”
In a letter to Melanie Lemon, Mr. Looney wrote, ”Your action of grabbing the student to get his attention was inappropriate and unprofessional.” He went on to say, ”If you feel a student is out of line and is failing to follow your directions, then you need to speak to an administrator regarding the behavior rather than grab or touch the student.”
It appears Looney’s contact with a student was more severe that of Lemon’s, yet he has returned to work without even a peep from the school board. An affidavit describing events last week stated that Looney grabbed a “juvenile by the arm and pulled her from a chair. Dr. Looney then escorted the juvenile to his personal vehicle and compelled her to get inside. These actions were over the express objection of the child’s parent, who was clear that she did not consent to her child going anywhere but to a hospital by ambulance.” Officers “removed the juvenile from Dr. Looney’s vehicle. Dr. Looney attempted to intervene and attempted to direct the officers in their actions. Dr. Looney was aggressive in his actions toward the mother of the juvenile and encroached on her personal space causing the child’s mother to be fearful of her safety. Dr. Looney stated to the mother, ‘I will not have an incident at the school.’ The child was transported by EMS.”
According to one constitutional attorney who regularly handles cases involving school boards, this conduct by Looney can give rise to civil liability against the school board. “Dr. Looney’s actions pose a serious violation of the student’s rights as guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause, and also constitute excessive force in violation of both the student and her parent’s civil liberties,” said Larry Crain. “The board will be lucky if criminal charges are all that result from Dr. Looney’s behavior.” The board has a legal responsibility to file necessary reports with the Department of Education and/or the State Board of Education regarding the incident. At a minimum, Looney should be suspended to ensure the integrity of any pending investigations, particularly the preservation of evidence. By allowing Looney to return to work, it is possible Looney himself is directing district wide communications downplaying and discrediting the incident. In addition, Looney may be directing Legal Counsel’s communications to the board and Security’s handling of surveillance footage or other evidence in his own criminal matter. Communications, Legal Counsel and Security all report to Looney.
For legal counsel in particular, there is an inherent ethical conflict of interest, as the interest of the board and Looney’s interest in this matter are not necessarily the same. After reviewing language in the affidavit and statement by Franklin Police, several local attorneys have suggested Looney may have been undercharged and additional charges may be forthcoming. Hopefully the board is also reviewing those documents with objective legal counsel.
The board must remain neutral. By quickly jumping to defend Looney, members of the board may be implying Franklin Police, EMTs, a mother, a student and others are lying. The rush to defend Looney seems to give the impression “the fix is in.” There are also rumblings that Looney will leverage his political affiliations to the fullest extent. It leads one to question if this office of public trust is now a runaway, unaccountable, highly politicized regime.
There seems to be an intentional pattern of intervention and interference by Looney, particularly when law enforcement is involved. In a previous incident, a janitor was found observing little girls in the restrooms at Scales Elementary and the district wanted to handle the matter “internally.” Observing children under age 13 without consent is a felony. According to documents obtained by FOIA from the Williamson County Sheriff’s office, the DA and Sheriff’s office determined they would only proceed with listing adults as victims, misdemeanor crimes. Furthermore, parents of victims identified on surveillance footage would not be notified. Parents must know if their children were victims of a felony crime. Proper care for victims and justice should take precedent. To that end, one has to wonder if the board inquired about the welfare of the child and mother involved in this latest incident. Perhaps they are too busy defending Looney to ask.
Justice for innocent children, particularly victims of crimes in our public schools, should never be compromised. Silencing children who are in need of professional help or silencing victims of crimes seems like a crime itself. Imagine the long-term implications for these children. They could become more isolated, withdrawn, and distrusting of adults and authority figures who harm them or enable others who harm them. When those who harm or enable others to harm children only get a slap on the wrist it sends a very dangerous message, particularly if done for the sake of perception, image and egos. Williamson County has one of the highest attempted teen suicide rates in the state, one must ask why?
Ignoring what is happening has consequences. Not standing up for the children has consequences. Not standing up for the whole truth has consequences. If this does not awaken you, what will? Will it take a school shooting? Then, the real issues can be hijacked and everyone can debate firearms instead of what we did…ignored our children, particularly those who needed us the most. We ignored or blindly trusted those in authority who are charged with their care in our schools.
Perhaps this is all a symptom of a much bigger problem. By blindly trusting elected board members, it appears we’ve enabled an environment where far too much power is concentrated in school administration. The board has become lazy, relying too heavily on the administration to conduct the business of the board instead of working for those who elected them. The board has abdicated their authority to a bureaucracy that has become too big, too controlling, too abusive, all with too few legitimate checks and balances.
At the end of the day, are you as well versed in local matters as you are those in DC and elsewhere? All politics is local. I suggest attending school board work sessions and committee meetings to not only understand the issues, but actively watch your elected board members.