Sunday, August 4 2013, 12:10 PM EDT
Parents Say Signal Mountain Principal Disrespected
Parents of students at Signal Mountain High School are standing up for their principal who was just suspended without pay a few weeks before his scheduled retirement.
Hamilton County Department of Education Superintendent Rick Smith said Dr. Tom McCullough violated school board policy after a much-talked-about senior trip.
Parents are circulating a petition asking Smith to lift the suspension. They say a 42-year career in it's final days has been unfairly tarnished.
"It's just really unfathomable that this decision was made to end such a distinguished career," Signal Mountain parent Paul Smith said.
Smith helped start the petition in part do defend Dr. McCullough's career and to persuade Smith to allow McCullough to finish his last few weeks with dignity. Hundreds of parents stand in support of McCullough and the petition.
Lisa Shander, a parent of two Students, said "I hate to see him publicly humiliated this way."
Smith's letter to McCullough reads in part "you... breached your duty as principal to understand and comply with Hamilton County School Board policy."
This all stems from a March senior trip in the Bahamas where five Signal Mountain educators serving as chaperones consumed alcohol. It wasn't around students but during their own time away from students. Since it was a school sponsored trip the educators were considered to be "on the clock."
Smith went on to say "...you failed to initially report these violations to any Central Office personnel or to reprimand the chaperones in any way."
The five educators got a year suspension.
"I understand that he didn't follow policy exactly but if you are going to start suspending people without pay for not following policy then I think all of the educators here in Hamilton County have something to be worried about because I know people make decisions based on what's right for their student population," Shander said.
Paul Smith added "of course there were mistakes made, some poor decisions made, but after reading the letter from Superintendent Smith I think the decision to suspend Dr. McCullough is way too harsh and out of line."
Parents point to SMHS's success under McCullough's leadership -- academically, in sports, graduation rates and earning International Baccalaureate School status.
"I just thought that the letter was completely disrespectful to his long career and they should just put that suspension aside and let him retire," parent Lisa Crowder said.
Dr. McCullough tells us he will wait until after June 30 to speak publicly.
In the meantime the Tennessee State Board of Education is expected to ease the penalties against the five educators during their July 27 meeting. The educators were looking at a one-year suspension but the Board's attorney said they're want that cut to six months for two of them with the other three getting formal reprimands.