By MIKE WEST, Courier Editor
Cannon County Board of Education members voted Thursday (April 10) to uphold their ban of Cannon Courier Sports Editor Tony Stinnett from school property.
Board Member Roy Parker moved to continue the ban. Nathan Sanders seconded his motion. Voting “aye” were Chairman Randy Gannon, Bruce Daniel, Sanders and Roy Parker. Chris Blackburn passed on the motion.
The board did reject a request by Schools Director Barbara Parker to expand the ban to all school events whether held on school property or not.
Stinnett, a former ISS monitor and baseball coach, was terminated for displaying an inappropriate photo on a school computer and doing so while a student was in the classroom. In addition to being terminated from CCHS and as its baseball coach, he also was banned from all school property.
Blackburn pointed out that Stinnett is one of two candidates seeking Roy Parker's seat on the board. Parker is filling the unexpired term of former Woodbury Lions Football Coach Mike Mayfield, who died following an auto accident.
“If this ban is upheld are we going to have to readdress this come September?” asked Blackburn during a discussion prior to the vote.
“Yes, I personally feel that we will,” answered Chairman Gannon.
“I personally hate that we are in this position. I've come to know Mr. Stinnett for a while since he has been here in the county and have come to like him and he has done a lot of positive stuff in the community,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn asked if there is any possibility that the board could consider allowing Stinnett onto school property if he is accompanied by an adult representative of the school.
“Not only is it hurting Mr. Stinnett, but it is hurting the school system in a way too because of the positive stuff he was able to bring out,” the school board member said.
Gannon suggested that Blackburn put that into a motion at the end of discussion. Blackburn did not.
During questioning by Board Member Sanders, Stinnett said the decision to dismiss him was Mrs. Parker's alone.
“It was something she didn't have to do, but choose to do,” Stinnett said.
“There was two parts to this. Not only was I was ISS monitor and baseball coach but I was a reporter covering the schools. Not sure if that question was raised.” (during discussions with board attorney Chuck Cagle), he said.
“Since my dismissal in December I've been able to show that I am not a threat to students. Coach, teacher … anything I've been involved with,” Stinnett said.
“The big thing is the job I do with the paper. I was hired to cover schools, do general features about schools and cover sports. That is still my primary job and this ban prevents me from effectively being able to do that job.
“There are many positive stories that need to be told. There are many positive things happening in the schools. Because I have been shown not to be a threat I don't understand why this board would look so strongly at the advisement an attorney would give the schools and not look at all the positive things as opposed to this one negative thing,” he continued.
“I'm not the only one who has made a mistake, but I am one of the very few that got caught. I've taken my medicine, my termination. I've not brought up coaching baseball. This is solely that I can continue to do my job,” Stinnett said.
“If this board was to lift the ban, what kind of message do you think the board would be sending out?” asked Sanders.
“I think it would show a bit of compassion. I feel like it shows if people make mistakes and are willing to admit them and work their way out of them and rebuild that trust. It shows that people get second chances,” Stinnett said.
Stinnett addressed the board during its workshop at Central Office Monday.
He asked board members not to feel as though they are going against a decision made by the director of schools but to do the right thing for the schools and students in their respective districts.“I am simply asking you to consider allowing me to be on school property to do my job,” Stinnett said.
Stinnett cited various reasons in asking the board to consider lifting his ban from Cannon County Schools property that was imposed as part of the terms of his termination from Cannon County High School in December.
“I have done nothing criminal, I wasn’t arrested and I wasn’t escorted from school property,” Stinnett told the Board.
“I believe this ban imposes sanctions worse than those placed on a person who has been arrested.”Stinnett cited School Board Policy 1.808 regarding registered sex offenders.
The policy states … “Employees (who are registered sex offenders) of third parties may enter onto school grounds temporarily during school hours for the limited purpose of making mail, food or other deliveries.”“I don’t understand how a registered sex offender has more rights than I in that regard,” Stinnett said. “I had to pass a background check to work for the school system. I passed that background check then, and I would pass it today. I am not looking to go onto campus and pal around with the coaches and students. I am looking to do my job for the Cannon Courier.”
Board chairman Gannon asked Director of Schools Parker if the decision to ban Stinnett was solely hers.“Banning him from school premises was the advice of the school board attorney,” Parker said. “There is a court case that supports that.”
Stinnett asked Parker if the attorney advised her or told her to ban him.“Was it up to you whether you enforced the ban or not,” Stinnett inquired.
“Yes, but I don’t go against the school board attorney,” Parker said. “I knew what had to be done as far as termination. I sought the advice of the attorney about the ban.”
Stinnett also pointed out that his situation was somewhat unusual because of his work situation prior to working at CCHS and after his termination.“This is not a normal situation,” Stinnett said. “When I came to Cannon County it was to work as a writer as the Cannon Courier covering schools, sports and general features. That was my primary employment and continued to be my primary employment even as I worked at the high school and coached baseball.“
In most cases when a person is terminated they probably leave the school district and seek employment elsewhere. In my case, my employment remains here in Cannon County and my primary job for the paper is still covering sports, schools and general features. This ruling prohibits me from effectively doing my job.”Stinnett also said he only found out Monday (April 7) during the workshop that CCHS Principal Mike Jones discovered what he had done and reported it to Parker.
Stinnett said he had been led to believe an IT person at Central Office had discovered and reported the misconduct.
Board member Sanders asked Parker to outline what had happened leading to Stinnett’s termination.“I got a call after 2:15 p.m. that the principal at the high school had discovered that someone had used a computer inappropriately,” Parker said. “I was at the school by 2:30. I was given the evidence and shown part of the evidence. I immediately knew what to do from there.”
Stinnett said he was confused when he learned Jones had reported him immediately.“I’m surprised he didn’t call me in and talk to me,” Stinnett said. “I’m surprised this is just now coming out.”
At that point Stinnett questioned whether this was a case of selective enforcement of discipline, citing a case where he had reported a teacher for misconduct in October. Stinnett said he didn’t realize the situation had not been dealt with “at all” until four days after he was terminated.
“Mrs. Parker said Mr. Jones called her immediately after my situation,” Stinnett said. “I wonder if she received a phone call as quickly after I left (Jones’) office after reporting a teacher for what I consider to be highly, highly unprofessional conduct. This teacher said a current CCHS student a pedophile and a pill head in the classroom in front of other students. I had witnesses in the class that verified what had happened. I reported it to Mr. Jones. I didn’t trust it would follow down the line in the chain of command so I left that meeting and called the director of schools and reported to her.
“When my baseball players and five parents met with Mr. Jones four days after my termination one of my players brought this up, asking how I could be fired for what I had done and yet this teacher is still there? Mr. Jones told the players and parents this was the first he had heard of this. He looked those players and parents in the face and flat lied to them because he knows I reported it. What’s more the director of schools is here and she knows I reported it to her.”
Gannon asked Stinnett to stick to the topic, which was the ban.
Stinnett said he believed one had everything to do with the other because this was evidence of selective enforcement of discipline.“He was quick to call and report me but he lied when asked about the other situation,” Stinnett said. “There are parents here tonight and if they found out a teacher called their child a pedophile I’m certain that wouldn’t sit too well.”
Stinnett also said Jones had acted unprofessionally in discussing his case with board members, a current student and a colleague.
Stinnett told the board members that Jones had access to the e-mail and video camera from the room at the high school and had shown it to board members and a media member.
Stinnett called into question why Jones would show them the text of the e-mail when the text of the e-mail had nothing to do with his termination.“I would think that’s highly inappropriate,” Stinnett said of Jones.
“All of these (board members) are entitled to see the e-mail, at least the portions that led to my dismissal, but this should be done at Central Office. It shouldn’t be that the high school principal has this complete access and can show it at his leisure. I informed (Parker) this was happening and it continues to happen.”
Sanders questioned whether Jones should have access to the e-mail and video.
“No, that shouldn’t be the case,” Parker said. “