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Nashville School Teacher To Her Longtime Principal: 'Time's Up!'

Nashville School Teacher To Her Longtime Principal: 'Time's Up!'
Posted at 12:05 PM, Aug 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-06 23:43:55-04

Another teacher says she also complained about sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct by a Nashville middle school principal, but district officials did nothing.

Metro Schools recently removed Dr. Sam Braden from his position at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Antioch after a NewsChannel 5 investigation revealed the district's own files were filled with complaints about the executive principal.

In an exclusive interview with NewsChannel 5 Investigates, science teacher Sonji Collins said it's time for the school system to admit it failed to protect its own employees.

"Teaching is hard, and to have these things going on in your building to make it even harder, it's discouraging," Collins said.

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Collins is a 16-year veteran at John F. Kennedy Middle where, according to a former supervisor, she's one of the school's best teachers.

But, under Braden, Collins said she and her colleagues repeatedly experienced comments that made her cringe.

"Things like, oh, I put my wife's back out last night," she recounted.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Talking about sex?"

"Sex," she acknowledged, "talking about sex."

Just like the stories that NewsChannel 5 found in the Human Resources Department's own past investigations of Braden, Collins described horrifically inappropriate comments by her former boss.

She filed her own complaint back in May, although it wasn't included in the documents that Metro Schools recently provided to NewsChannel 5 Investigates in response to a public records request.

"He's mentioned he has nine or 10 inches," Collins said. "Or he will say ... how big his snake is, he has a snake."

We asked, "He's very focused on sex?"

"Yes. It seems lately that's all he talks about."

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Collins' own complaint against Braden included an incident in May 2017 during practice for 8th grade graduation.

"He just stands there really close and stares at me and says, 'Don't make me grab you and kiss you in front of all these people,'" she recalled.

Collins said she let Braden know his behavior was inappropriate.

Still, according to her complaint, that didn't stop him from making comments to one of her colleagues.

"He mentioned to her that the reason why I am such an angry disgruntled person is because I am in love with him and I want him, but he's not interested in me getting in his pants," Collins said.

The veteran JFK teacher said her instinct was to start avoiding the principal.

"He didn't appreciate that, so he walked up to me outside of the school and said, 'Are you ignoring me?'" she recounted. "I said, no, I am trying to supervise my kids out here. He says, 'Well, don't make me grab you' and started laughing. And I walked away from him."

Collins told HR that, when school resumed in August 2017, Braden made a scene during a faculty training session when he grabbed her and hugged her for an extended period.

"The way he hugged me, my arms were pinned so that I couldn't push him off of me, so I started leaning to the side to give him an idea, this is uncomfortable, I don't like this. And he saw that I was uncomfortable and he just held on anyway," she told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

About six weeks after Collins says she rebuffed her principal, he gave her a written reprimand for having a bad attitude.

She said she later heard that the suicide of her boyfriend many years before had suddenly become material for Braden's gossiping.

"Telling them, oh, stay away from her, don't talk to her, she's a killer, she killed her boyfriend," Collins said. 

"I was in shock. I couldn't believe he would say something as heinous as that."

In fact, Ms. Collins said she had actually complained to someone in Human Resources about Braden's behavior back in 2015.

Nothing happened then.

Still, this past May, she filed another complaint and went in for an interview in early June.

Erick Huth, president of the Metro Nashville Education Association, went with Collins to that interview. He confirmed that the incidents described by Collins were discussed.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Collins, "What happened as a result of your complaint?"

"I still have yet to hear from them," she said.

Metro Schools spokesperson Dawn Rutledge said HR had trouble reaching Collins' witnesses over the summer.

Still, by this time, Metro Schools already had files full of similar allegations from other JFK employees.

When she didn't hear back, Collins said, she began to worry.

"It was 2015 all over again," she said. "I am not going to get any help and he is probably going to find out that I have turned him in, yet again, and the retaliation in the new school year with him is going to be even worse."

Then, after NewsChannel 5 Investigates exposed the allegations against Braden, Metro Schools placed him on administrative leave to take a fresh look at the case.

He's now filed paperwork to begin the process for retirement.

Collins sees that development as justice.

"It's my hope for him that, one day, he finds redemption," she said.

"But, for now, time's up."

In the past, Braden has denied any wrongdoing. Last Thursday, NewsChannel 5 asked his attorney for comment, but he hasn't responded.

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NC5 Investigates: Metro Schools