By Wally Kennedy
JOPLIN, Mo. —
In a 7-0 vote, the Joplin Board of Education terminated the teaching contract of Randy Turner, a communication arts teacher at East Middle School, in a closed session Thursday night.
The vote was disclosed on Friday by John Nicholas, the board’s attorney.
Nicholas said the decision to release the outcome of the vote came after Turner’s attorney, Nancy Watkins, of St. Louis, was contacted on Friday.
Under state law, Turner may appeal the decision in circuit court. In a telephone interview on Friday, Turner said he had not made a decision about an appeal. He said it was his understanding that he had 15 days to make that decision.
Turner said he was emailed a copy of the board’s decision by his attorney on Friday.
Nicholas said the decision was faxed to Turner’s attorney on Friday, but that the district could not confirm until late in the day that she had seen it and had notified Turner. Nicholas said he did not want Turner to read about his termination in the newspapers.
A termination hearing for Turner was conducted on May 23, with district administrators accusing him of engaging in immoral conduct. The board’s decision stated that it found no evidence that rose to the level of immoral conduct, “but this conclusion in no way minimizes the findings of policy violations.’’
In a footnote to the board’s decision about immoral conduct, the board said Turner was not charged with immoral conduct for engaging in inappropriate relations with a student. The charges against Turner specifically indicate that he was charged with immoral conduct because he had provided and promoted obscene material containing graphic depiction of sexuality to children in a book he authored called “No Child Left Alive.’’ Turner described the book as a satire on the state of public education in the United States.
The footnote states: “Although the administration testified that the circumstances surrounding the situation caused them to have a heightened level of concern during their investigation, the administration indicated that they found no evidence that Turner had engaged in inappropriate relations with a student. The resulting connection by innuendo was made by Turner’s counsel, not by the administration.’’
During Turner’s termination hearing, the school district’s human resources director, Tina Smith, 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.”
Huff testified that he would be more at peace knowing there were no “victims” of Turner out there. As the parent of a 13-year-old girl, Huff said he could not put his head on a pillow at night “and not bring these charges before the Board of Education.”
In response to those statements, Turner’s attorney warned witnesses that their comments were bordering on defamation.
Termination charges against Turner, which were recommended by Huff, also included allegations that he intentionally violated several district policies.
In all, the board’s decision reflects at least nine policy violations, relating to staff conduct, technology usage, teaching about human sexuality, staff conflict of interest, and student publications, according to the decision.
The decision states that in order to be found responsible for a persistent violation or failure to obey board policy, there must be “evidence of a continuing course of action in opposition to board policy, regulation or admonition of administrators. A single violation of board policy is not a persistent violation.’’
The hearing was held before the board because only the board has the authority to fire a tenured teacher. The board heard nearly 10 hours of testimony from more than a dozen witnesses. More than 45 exhibits were accepted into evidence.
No parents or students testified against Turner in terms of his moral character or his ability to teach.
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 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 in early May.
The board had to disclose it decision within 72 hours of the vote, according to state law.