The controversy surrounding a writing assignment at White County Middle School made its way into the county commission meeting Sept. 18.
Newly elected commission chairman Kyle Goff opened the floor for comments from audience members. Dewayne Howard, school board member, was the first person to address the commissioners during the public comments portion of the meeting.
Howard asked commissioners for a bit of liberty. Then he began directly addressing the audience. He said the controversy had hurt the love of his life, and he wanted it to stop, but he was not going to stop until he was satisfied with the outcome.
Chairman Goff reminded Howard that he should address the commissioners. Howard stepped to the podium.
Howard then addressed the 8th-grade writing assignment.
“I didn’t even want to be here tonight,” Howard said. “I didn’t want to say anything about this, I didn’t want to talk about this right here, but when you have people in your district who say that there is a problem, and they want you to address it, and you’re an elected official… You do your job.”
Howard said regarding the writing assignment, “When the citizens of White County say the punishment did not fit the wrongness this teacher did, I listen.”
He then recounted his request to add items to the agenda for the school board meeting in September, including his demand that the teacher who gave the assignment be present before the board to answer questions. Director of schools Kurt Dronebarger refused to acquiesce to request for the teacher’s presence.
After going over a minute beyond his allowed three-minute time restraint, Howard was allowed to wrap up his statement briefly.
Commissioner Roger Mason (District 6) asked Howard, “How does all of this pertain to the county legislative body?”
Howard responded, “It doesn’t. OK. It doesn’t, but I appreciate you listening to it. Because, to me, this is a neutral environment. I have never felt a neutral environment at the school board, and so I’ve always felt a hostile environment. And I appreciate you listening to me, but I didn’t come here tonight for me. I came because of the text message. You know - rally here. There’s gonna be - you know - with what went on at schools.”
Howard was reportedly referring to a widely-shared Facebook post stating, “Those who detract from our school system and director will be attending the commission meeting tonight to try to taint us even more. Who wants to join me for the meeting?? 6:00 tonight!!! Please come support our schools and Mr. D!”
Pastor Dale Walker was the next audience member to approach the podium. He stated he was there to address the commission on several situations concerning White County schools and the school board. He then looked at Commissioner Mason, “I will address your question how it applies to the county commission. As a taxpayer and resident of this county, you, as county commissioners, elected to represent we the people and also pass the budget for the schools. When citizens feel that their grievances aren’t properly addressed, we have the constitutional right to seek higher bodies of government and seek them to interpose on behalf of aggrieved citizens. Ironically, I stand here tonight, during Constitution Week, to exercise the rights of those citizens.”
Walker then addressed the Facebook post, claiming it was an attempt to censor opposition. He then attempted to engage the post’s originator, who he claimed was present. Chairman Goff directed Walker to address his comments to the commission. (For a complete accounting of Walker’s statements to the commissioners, view the entire meeting on The Expositor’s Facebook page. Walker’s statement begins about 25 minutes into the broadcast.)
Chairman Goff then recognized Shelly Daniels, wife of Commissioner Larry Daniels. Shelly Daniels was the parent who first mentioned concerns about the writing assignment. Shelly Daniels said that it was never her intention for those concerns to become so blown up. She said she, her husband, and her son had spoken with the teacher. Shelly Daniels said she believed the teacher sincerely cared, and the Daniels family was satisfied with the matter’s resolution. She said she considered the matter over.
Speaking directly to Walker, Shelly Daniels said, “I’m not really sure who you are speaking on behalf of, because it was my child who did not do the assignment.”
She continued, “I let the matter drop, and others decided to bring it out to be an issue.”
She said Walker had called Commissioner Larry Daniels and asked, “What are your intentions?”
Shelly Daniels said they answered Walker by saying they intended to talk to the teacher first to which she said Walker replied, “It doesn’t matter. My intention is to get her fired.”
When Shelly Daniels concluded her address to the commissioners, Chairman Goff decided to end comments on the topic and asked if any audience members wished to address other matters. There were no further requests, and the meeting adjourned.
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