A lack of transparency on the part of the Williamson County Schools (WCS) surrounds the medical condition of Superintendent Mike Looney.
The Tennessee Star broke the story on Tuesday that Looney told WCS staffers earlier in the day that he has a tumor on his pancreas.
The language of that communication suggested that he was going to go on medical leave during his treatment period:
I need to share a little bit of news so that you can learn it from me rather than another source. I would much rather not share things of a personal nature, but given my role in the district, it really can’t be avoided.
I very recently learned that I have a tumor in my pancreas. At this point, I am planning on having surgery toward the end of this month and unfortunately will need to take several weeks off for recovery. (emphasis added)
The central office staff is wholly prepared to support your work without me. Jason Golden will act on my behalf during my absence. I will enjoy watching from a distance and will continue to cheer you on as our work progresses.
However, Carol Birdsong, director of communications for WCS, told The Star when asked about Dr. Looney’s status on Wednesday “He is not on medical leave at this time.”
The Star asked two follow up questions:
(1) When will he be on medical leave?
(2) Is his tumor of the pancreas cancerous or non-cancerous?
Pancreatic cancer is a virulent form of the disease that spreads rapidly and has a high morbidity rate. Tumors of the pancreas that are non-cancerous have a much lower morbidity rate.
“I’m sorry. I don’t have any additional information,” Birdsong responded via email.
The Star pressed for more details, with the following email:
I think you told The Tennessean he has a tumor on his pancreas, will be having surgery before the end of the month, and will not be in day to day operations for several months potentially.
Do you stand by that statement?
“This is what I sent,” Birdsong responded:
Dr. Looney is disappointed that a message he shared with staff has been shared with the media.
Dr. Looney has recently learned that he has a tumor in his pancreas. Over the next several weeks, he will be having surgery and undergoing treatment.
Deputy Superintendent Jason Golden will lead the district while Dr. Looney is out of the office.
You all know that Dr. Looney is more than willing to talk with the media on any topic. However, during this time, we respectfully request that you send any media requests directly to me so that Dr. Looney can focus on his recovery.
He appreciates your positive thoughts and support but requests no cards, emails, texts, etc.
Thank you in advance for respecting his privacy.
It would be highly unusual for an employee of any company diagnosed with pancreatic cancer not to request and be placed on medical leave.
Medical leave typically has a very specific set of rules which prohibit the employee on such leave from engaging in any work activities while in that status.
At present, Dr. Looney appears to be undergoing treatment for a tumor of the pancreas, possibly cancerous, but not relinquishing control of any of his duties or responsibilities during this time. WCS, however, continues to resist providing full transparency on the true nature of Dr. Looney’s condition to residents of the county.
Meanwhile, Dr. Looney still, apparently, has a court date set for March 29 in which he will face assault charges related to his treatment of a student at Franklin High School.