School board to hear Alexander's appeal tonight

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The Elizabethton Schools Board of Education will hear the appeal of Elizabethton High School Principal Edwin Alexander of a decision finding allegations of harassment against Director of Schools Dr. Judy Blevins.
   What, exactly, the board's authority is regarding the appeal could range from approval and a new investigation to denial of the appeal.
   "Actually, this issue as far as the board's decision is pretty straightforward," said Dr. Jonathan Bremer, vice chairman of the board of education. "It is certainly a serious issue as far as community perception and the school system, but the board has limited options as to what we can do as far as the circumstance."
   Bremer said the board's role was to evaluate whether the findings of the evaluation of Alexander's harassment grievance was valid.
   "The board policy states that we agree with it, disagree with it or modify it," said Bremer.
   The controversy surrounding Alexander began late last year. A petition circulating in the community in early December indicated that Alexander was "under scrutiny". He filed the grievance against Blevins on Nov. 7, alleging that he had been subject to harassment.
   In his grievance complaint, Alexander cited a telephone call from school board attorney Patrick Hull on Nov. 7 saying the complainant against him had secured the services of an attorney. Alexander's complaint alleged that the call was a "strong-arm tactic" designed to intimidate him.
   He filed the discrimination complaint against Blevins based on this incident, according to his grievance. A meeting held Dec. 15 included Alexander, his attorney, Blevins, and the school board's attorney, Patrick Hull. The meeting ended without Alexander's dismissal, which Blevins and the system's attorney said was never under consideration.
   Students at Elizabethton High School circulated petitions in support of Alexander on December 13.
   Following an interview by a mediating attorney, Assistant Director of Schools Rondald Taylor reported finding no alleged harassment on behalf of Blevins.
   The high school's director of vocational education, Adeline Hyder, filed a discrimination complaint stating that Alexander had questioned her integrity, loyalty to him, and her friendship with Director of Schools, Dr. Judy Blevins.
   That discrimination complaint remains unresolved.
   Board chairman, Dr. Robert Sams said he had met with a representative of the Elizabethton Education Association who requested the meeting be moved to a larger venue to accommodate what is expected to be an overflow crowd Thursday night.
   However, school board policy requires at least one week of notification to reschedule the time or place of a school board meeting.
   Sams said that the board's most controversial decision not to renew the contract of former director of schools, Dr. Dan Wetzel, did not precipitate a change in venue for that meeting.
   "That was much more controversial than this and it was held in the board room," said Sams.
   Board member Catherine Armstrong said Wednesday that she had been reviewing the board's entire agenda and planned to evaluate the entire case before making her opinion.
   "I am going to listen to Mr. Alexander carefully and hope I make the right decision," said Armstrong, who also said she had sought guidance from an authority outside the realm of the city school system.
   "I've done a lot of praying about this," she said.
   Bremer and Sams said the issue, like controversies that had bugged the school system in previous years, had been a distraction for the system. Both also hoped that regardless of tonight's decision, the administration at the central office and high school could move forward with a minimum amount of strife.
   "Certainly anytime something like this happens, it takes time away from education," said Bremer. "We want it resolved peacefully and quickly. We all want the system to work smoothly."
   The Board of Education will meet at 6:30 p.m. tonight in the Mack Pierce Board Room at the ECS administration building.