Alexander keeping options open

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   For the first time in 11 years, Edwin Alexander's colorful office of books, flags and photographs is empty.
   "I've been suspended summarily without any notice at all," Alexander told the Star on Wednesday afternoon.
   A 28-year veteran of the high school, Alexander has spent 11 years as principal. He was suspended indefinitely by Dr. Judy Blevins, director of Elizabethton City Schools (ECS) on Monday. The suspension resulted in a walkout by approximately 250 Elizabethton High School students on Monday morning. Scores of students have engaged in vocal protests against Alexander's suspension over the past two days.
   Many students turned out at Alexander's residence Wednesday afternoon as part of a floating protest that took students and parents from City Hall to the city schools administration building to the offices of school board members.
   "I told them I appreciated their support; I told them to make sure they drove safely and to go back to school and go to work, especially the seniors," said Alexander.
   He flatly denies all allegations made by fellow educator Adeline Hyder in a grievance against him. Hyder -- the high school's director of vocational education -- filed a discrimination complaint stating that Alexander had questioned her integrity, loyalty to him, and her friendship with Blevins.
   He said Wednesday he never asked Hyder of her loyalty to him.
   Controversy surround Alexander began in November 2000 when whispers grew that the principal was "under scrutiny". A meeting between Alexander and school administrators was held on Dec. 16, 2002 involving the complaints filed.
   Alexander filed a grievance against Blevins on Nov. 13, 2002 after he had received a telephone call from the school system's attorney, Patrick Hull, on Nov. 7, regarding a complaint that had been filed against Alexander by Hyder.
   In his grievance, Alexander stated that he felt Hull's call was a "strong-arm tactic which was orchestrated to intimidate, which certainly amounts to a case of harassment."
   Greeneville attorney Thomas J. Garland conducted an investigation into Alexander's complaint and found no wrongdoing by Blevins.
   School system policy assigns the director of schools to review the findings of a grievance investigation of a school employee. Since Blevins was the subject of the grievance, assistant director of schools Rondald Taylor was appointed to review Garland's report.
   In a letter to Alexander dated Nov. 25, Taylor wrote that Garland's investigation found no wrongdoing by Blevins and no grounds for his complaint.
   Alexander appealed that decision to the Elizabethton Board of Education in January. The board upheld Garland's findings by a vote of 4-1 with Catherine Armstrong dissenting.
   In his appeal before the board, Alexander stated he had spoken with Blevins and ECS director of special projects, Dr. Carol Whaley, regarding what he felt were salary inequities among administrative members, particularly the assistant principals at EHS.
   Alexander had requested the high schools' assistant principals receive a raise, to which Blevins had replied that she could not, since those salaries were negotiated through the Elizabethton Education Association.
   In a letter to Alexander on Wednesday, Blevins said school board policy did not allow him the right to appeal her decision to suspend him. His only recourse as an administrator would allow him to request a hearing if Blevins submits charges to the board warranting Alexander's dismissal, according to her letter.
   Alexander said Wednesday he would keep all his options open, including his right to speak as a citizen before the school board.
   "It depends on what I want to do now," Alexander told the Star on Wednesday afternoon. "I am continuing to pursue all options and keep them open."