NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The sexual harassment scandal involving a middle school principal has now become a hot-button political issue.
Candidates for the Metro School Board seat representing the Antioch area are getting an earful from voters following the NewsChannel 5 investigation.
"I've actually heard more from people coming in and out of the polls after they've had an opportunity to look at the news," said District 6 school board member Tyese Hunter.
At the Southeast Nashville early voting site, candidates get up close and personal with Antioch voters.
For parents with children at John F. Kennedy Middle School, a top concern has been the district's handling of accusations against principal Sam Braden of sexual harassment and other inappropriate conduct.
"I haven't done any investigation myself -- thank God, that's not one of the school board member's missions," Hunter said.
"But I have been hearing from some of the constituents that have been coming up."
The incumbent has established a reputation as an unabashed supporter of Metro Schools director Dr. Shawn Joseph.
On Tuesday, when the school board met in closed session to hear from a Metro lawyer about the case, Hunter said she was out campaigning.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Based on what you know now, do you think it was properly investigated?"
Hunter answered, "I don't know enough now because I haven't actually seen -- I'm sure you probably did a show or something on it. I haven't had an opportunity to see anything personally."
Challenger Fran Bush had no hesitation with her answer.
"No, it was not properly handled," she said.
Bush questioned why Braden wasn't placed on administrative leave months ago when the accusations first surfaced and why a more thorough investigation wasn't conducted back then.
"That is something that should have been handled very quickly," she added. "Instead it lagged. It was not handled in a timely manner. That is the reason that the community was so concerned."
Another candidate, Aaron McGee, said it should not have taken a public scandal involving the JFK principal to force school officials to do the right thing.
"Once the allegation was made, the policy has to be followed to the T, and Dr. Braden should have been placed on administrative leave," McGee said.
Still, he commended Metro Schools for making the right call this week.
"By removing Dr. Braden, I think it lowered a level of anxiety that parents may have had in deciding if they were going to send their kids to school on the first day of school."
Hunter said it's not her job as a school board member to get personally involved in these types of issues - the board hires the director, then counts on him to run the district.
But Bush and McGee say the school board member also needs to be a vocal advocate for students and teachers.
Below are statements received from various school board candidates:
District 2, Rachael Anne Elrod
There should be zero tolerance for sexual harassment or retaliation. I’m disgusted by the allegations, and the reports of the whole ordeal are deeply troubling.
Human Resources should always fully investigate any harassment allegations. It would be my job as a school board member, if elected, to make sure MNPS and the Human Resources Department foster a safe and welcoming work environment for everyone. School board members must demand that reports of sexual harassment are handled appropriately, investigated thoroughly, and punished accordingly.
The additional reports of Dr. Braden misusing school funds/tax dollars are also very concerning. If we expect our employees, like the JFK bookkeeper, to do their best work and follow the rules, then we must listen to them when they request assistance and bring something to our attention. Additionally, the accusations of Dr. Braden stealing money from his employees, teachers and staff who are already paid too little, are shameful.
There is plenty of work to do within MNPS to create a better culture, help with teacher retention, and rebuild trust. Putting Dr. Braden on leave while MNPS reviews these multiple allegations is a good first step. There should be a comprehensive investigation into all aspects of this situation. I urge any impacted employees to report any other misconduct or allegations.
District 2, T.C. Weber
Both the actions and the reactions are just mind numbing. Our teachers, our students, and our families deserve better. Dr. Joseph instructed principals the other day not to talk gossip, nor to listen to gossip. But it's getting harder everyday to figure out what's gossip and what's fact. This cannot continue. Either policy has to change or personnel has to change, and I'm good with either.
District 6, Fran Bush
After watching the sexual harassment investigation against Dr. Braden, it is clearly sexual harassment misconduct. With the "Me Too" movement, the administration should have taken more of an aggressive approach of doing an internal investigation when the staff started making sexual harassment complaints of Dr. Braden's behavior. Instead, the administration and Dr. Joseph decided to keep it "hush-hush" and clearly protected their own by deciding to give Dr. Braden coaching. I am with those parents and teachers who decided not to show up at J. F. Kennedy Middle School if the administration decided to keep Dr. Braden presence at the school. District 6 clearly needs stronger leadership and a voice on the school board who will stand up for what's right for our schools, teacher staff and, more importantly, our children.
District 6, Aaron McGee
While it is not the job of a school board member to decide whether Dr. Braden is innocent or guilty of these allegations, it is absolutely the board’s job to ensure the safety of our students and faculty as our highest priority. When allegations are made, the board must ensure that district office staff, including the director of schools, are strictly adhering to policy. In this instance, Dr. Braden should have been placed on administrative leave, and parents and teachers should have been notified.
It is disappointing that this did not happen appropriately and is one more example of how the families of MNPS, especially those in District 6, do not trust that they are being heard or that their children’s interests are being placed above the interests of adults.
District 8, Adam Barese
MNPS under the leadership of Dr. Shawn Joseph once again finds itself dealing with a high-level sexual harassment scandal. This is just the latest example of dysfunction within the district. The administration’s handling of this case highlights either incompetence within HR and senior leadership or shows efforts to coverup a more substantial issue. Either way it’s embarrassing and demoralizing for the thousands of Metro School teachers and staff that work hard every day to be a role model for our kids.
I’m especially concerned about Dr. Joseph’s message to the School Board when he warned about the possibility of an upcoming news story. Instead of looking for ways to improve the district’s HR processes and the culture within our schools, Dr. Joseph insists the best approach is to pass laws to help keep such investigations secret. That’s ludicrous. This is a continuing theme of the Joseph administration and it is negatively impacting the school system. The school board needs to take action now, it is time for a change. I am running for school board to improve our schools, and it is apparent my first effort will be to help make a change in MNPS leadership.
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