The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 22, 2013

Joplin teacher on leave after employee complaint, district investigation

JOPLIN, Mo. — An investigation by the Joplin School District of an employee’s complaint has led to the dismissal from the classroom of a teacher at East Middle School.

Randy Turner, an eighth-grade communication arts teacher, was placed on paid administrative leave on April 8 after the school district received a complaint from a district employee on April 4, according to a statement emailed to the Globe on Sunday from Superintendent C.J. Huff. After an investigation into the complaint by the administration, a 28-page “statement of charges” was given to Turner on Thursday, Huff said.

Huff declined in a telephone interview to specify the nature of the complaint or to release details of the “statement of charges,” saying it is a personnel matter.

Turner did not immediately respond Sunday to messages left at two phone numbers listed for him. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he also maintains a blog that covers crime, education and political issues at the local, state and national level.

His dismissal sparked the creation of a Facebook page called “Project Turner,” which has gathered support from students seeking to bring their teacher back to the classroom.

Huff said the investigation included “a review of any and all evidence” related to the complaint as well as interviews with people who might have had relevant information. Speaking in general terms, he said the people who were interviewed could have included district employees, students or parents.

Huff said the district followed standard procedure in placing Turner on paid leave, which means that the employee is being paid according to his contract and is still employed by the school district, but is not working.

“Any time we’ve done an investigation where there are concerns, it’s not unusual to send an employee home on paid administrative leave pending the investigation,” he said.

Under the school district’s due-process procedure, Turner can request a hearing in front of the Board of Education, at which time he would be allowed to “state his case,” Huff said. The board would review any evidence against him and then determine whether to continue his contract, Huff said. If a hearing is not requested, the board still would meet to consider whether to continue the contract, he said.

Many of Turner’s students are using their “Project Turner” Facebook page — which was created Friday and had received more than 130 “likes” by Sunday evening — to garner support for him, according to Mackenzie Robinson, president of the East Middle School PTO. They also are brainstorming ways to show their support, including designing and wearing T-shirts to school, she said.

“This is a teacher that has made a very high impact on these students’ lives, and they want to fight for him,” said Robinson, whose daughter is one of Turner’s students and also one of the students behind the Facebook page. “He’s done nothing but influence them in a positive direction to express themselves in their writing.”

Meanwhile, Turner launched a campaign Thursday — the same day Huff said he was given his “statement of charges” — on the online fundraising platform Kickstarter.

On the page titled “Let Teachers Teach,” he proposes a two-book series — with the tentative titles “The War Against Teachers” and “Teachers Fight Back — and seeks to raise pledges in the amount of $40,000 by May 12 to fund the project.

In the first book, he writes, he says he will use his background as an investigative reporter “to detail the forces that are conspiring against the classroom teacher, both through original reporting and by offering anecdotal evidence from teachers in their own words.”

The second book “will feature the stories of teachers, many told in their own words, who relate their successes and failures in trying to find ways to do their jobs, help children and maintain their dignity in a climate that sometimes makes it nearly impossible to accomplish any of those things.”

He describes a self-published novel published in July 2012, “No Child Left Alive,” as having struck a blow “for the cause.”

That novel, published as an e-book, contains numerous passages of a graphic, sexual nature. It is a fictional account about a school administration obsessed with preparing students for state testing at a cost of not allowing teachers to actually do their jobs.

Scott Meeker, Globe enterprise editor, contributed to this report.

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