The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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May 23, 2013

Joplin Board of Education to decide fate of East Middle School teacher

JOPLIN, Mo. — After hearing nearly 10 hours of testimony from more than a dozen witnesses and accepting more than 45 exhibits into evidence, members of the Joplin Board of Education voted to move behind closed doors Thursday night to decide whether Randy Turner, a communication arts teacher at East Middle School, will continue to teach.

Termination charges against Turner include allegations that he engaged in immoral conduct, that he intentionally violated district policies and that he made available to middle school students material that contained inappropriate sexual content.

Turner was placed on leave — a standard procedure — after the school district received a complaint about him from a district employee on April 4, according to Superintendent C.J. Huff. After an investigation into the complaint by the administration, a 28-page “statement of charges” was given to Turner on April 15, and a set of additional charges was delivered to him earlier this month.

The school district’s human resources director, Tina Smith, on Thursday said she interviewed students in Turner’s classes and inferred that he might be “grooming” his students, a reference to behavior often exhibited by child predators.

Turner was accused of tagging by name proportionally more girls than boys on his Facebook page by Klista Rader, director of information technology for the district. She said that “stood out as odd.”

Turner would later testify that he had never tagged anyone on his Facebook page.

Huff testified that he would be more at peace knowing there were no “victims” of Turner’s out there. Holding back tears, Huff said that as the parent of a 13-year-old girl, he could not put his head on a pillow at night “and not bring these charges before the Board of Education.”

No parents or students testified against Turner in terms of his moral character or his ability to teach. The parents and students who did testify said he was an outstanding teacher capabIe of lighting a fire in students who had not shown an interest in writing.

One parent said she wished she had more information about a permission slip she signed to let Turner publish student writings in a recently released book, “Scars from the Tornado.”

The hearing, which began at 9 a.m. and concluded at 9 p.m., started with excerpts from a book — “No Child Left Alive” — that Turner said he wrote as a satire about the distressing state of public education in this country. The excerpts, read by administration attorney Shellie Guin, included graphic, but not explicit, references to sex.

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