The sentencing of Kyle Smith, 28, Branson, who pleaded guilty May 12 to transporting a minor across state lines for sex purposes and coercion and enticement of a minor, will bring an end to a chapter that has made the past year a trying one for Harrison Public School Superintendent Melinda Moss, one of two finalists for the Joplin R-8 superintendent position.
The grand jury indictment said Smith took a 14-year-old girl from Arkansas to his Branson home on July 19 and 22, 2015, and did the same with a 16-year-old on August 3 and 16.
Questions arose concerning Moss' handling of the situation and whether she caused problems for investigating officers by bringing in a lawyer to begin an investigation even before the Harrison Police arrived on the scene.
From the Harrison Daily Times report:
The report said (Harrison Police) Detective Jason Causey went to the school and spoke with Superintendent Mendy Moss and legal representative, Cody Kees, in reference to the allegations. Causey also spoke with the teacher who received the original allegations and called the Crimes Against Children Unit on Aug. 20.
Records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show Kees, a lawyer with the Munson, Rowlett, Moore & Boone law firm in Little Rock, was notified about the case on Aug. 20, the same day the CACU call was placed. He was on the Harrison campus the following day to conduct an investigation for the school.
Moss told the Daily Times in February that Kees specializes in investigations for schools.
“So,” Moss said, “whenever there’s any kind of report alleged we utilize their services because we want thorough, swift and complete investigations because nothing’s more important than student safety.”
Questions were raised at that time about the wisdom of bringing in a lawyer to begin an investigation even before the police arrived and those questions were raised again during a federal lawsuit filed in May by fired teacher Andrea Pendarvis, another of the negative events that have impacted Moss' recent months at Harrison.
Pendarvis claims her First Amendment rights were violated when she was fired for criticizing another teacher using vulgar language in a private e-mail. Other teachers involved in that same e-mail conversation had no action taken against them and Pendarvis claims that was because she had been critical of the superintendent's handling of situations involving children's safety, including the Kyle Smith arrest. The following passage is from Pendarvis' lawsuit:
It became evident Moss wanted Plaintiff out of the district because Plaintiff had spoken out about the mishandling of certain instances where a member of the district staff was suspected of some form of child abuse or child endangerment.
One such incident involved Kyle Smith, a former assistant band director for the district, who was arrested on or about February 11, 2016, and charged with four counts of statutory sodomy and four counts of statutory rape (Note; these were the original charges filed in Taney County Circuit Court) of underage girls who were students in the Harrison School District.
After the arrest, the Smith case was widely published in the newspapers and is well known in the community. Plaintiff had been told by others that when the allegations against Smith were first known to Moss, Moss did not call the police, but rather had a law firm come in to look at the situation, purportedly to determine the district's liability, and then allowed Smith to return to campus and continue working for the district
Smith was never terminated by the district, but upon information and belief, did ultimately tender his resignation. around the time of his arrest more than six months after the allegations were first brought to the attention of Moss. (Note: Smith's resignation was actually accepted September 1, five months before Smith's arrest.)
During that time, Plaintiff openly expressed her concern about Moss' role in that matter and in particular what had been said by Harrison police and reported in the paper, to the effect that Moss had hampered their investigation of Smith and thereby delayed his arrest. The reports from the Harrison police suggested that evidence could have been lost or destroyed during that delay.
Pendarvis claimed there were two other instances in which she believed school staff had endangered children and that Moss had done nothing about it and had a "habit of sweeping things under the rug."
Pendarvis also alleged that Moss revealed information from her personnel file to other district employees, encouraged them to bring in more dirt against Pendarvis because she did not have a "smoking gun" that would make sure she was fired.
The lawsuit also includes allegations of intimidation against teachers who offered support for Pendarvis.
The defendants in the Pendarvis lawsuit, the Harrison Board of Education and Moss have said the lawsuit is frivolous and denied all of her allegations in their response to the petition.
Though there are no indications that it has anything to do with Melinda Moss, Harrison patrons booted the two incumbent school board members who were up for re-election by a wide margin in the September 20 election.
John McCuistion defeated incumbent John Sherman 643 to 221 and Marisa Keylon received 699 votes to 155 for incumbent Roz Slavik.