Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Ten years ago today, I made C. J. Huff cry

Ten years ago today, the Joplin R-8 Board of Education heard what a horrible human being Randy Turner is.

My termination hearing came more than six weeks after I was removed from my classroom at East Middle School after a four-minute interrogation by HR Director Tina Smith in which she mainly asked me if I had written a pornographic book called No Child Left Alive (I said I wrote the book but I disagreed with her description) and if I had written a book called Scars from the Tornado.

After I saw where her interrogation was heading, I asked if I could explain.

She told me I would get my chance, but I never did.

Joplin Police Department Officer Rick Hirshey, who was our resource officer at East, was told to escort me from the building and he did. Tina Smith timed it so I would be removed just as the final bell was ringing, so the students and my fellow teachers could see me.

For the next several days, I stayed in my apartment. I did not want to have to explain to anyone why I was out and about on a school day (not that anyone would have asked). Tina Smith had instructed me not to talk to any teachers or students and I didn't.

When word got out that I had been removed from the classroom. A couple of my former students, who at the time were attending Joplin High School, organized a group to support me.

I finally received the charges against me and the charges were wild. I not only wrote a "pornographic" book, but I assigned it to students.

I had never even told any of them about the book.

I was also accused of publishing Scars from the Tornado, a book that included stories written by the students about their tornado experiences, without receiving permission.

During that time, I received a phone call from Joplin Globe reporter Emily Younker who asked me about my situation. I told her I couldn't talk to her on the record, but I offered to tell her off the record so she could understand what was going on.

She wasn't interested.

Joplin Globe reporters don't do that, I was told.

Annie Smith of NEA tried to get Superintendent C. J. Huff to hear my side because there were so many things that were wrong with the charges, but he was not interested.

She told me my best bet was to look for a job in another district and that was what I decided to do. I probably would have been hired for another teaching position and quietly resigned from Joplin were it not for C. J. Huff (or someone from his administration) and the Joplin Globe.

The Globe published an article about my suspension, dutifully quoted Huff who said he could not talk about it since it was a personnel matter- but then from out of nowhere, the Globe mentioned that I had written a "sexually graphic" novel. 

How else would the Globe reporter have known what my suspension was about? At the time, No Child Left Alive was only an e-book and I had not even really been promoting it. After all, it was essentially about a group of high school teachers in a dysfunctional school district that had extremely poor leadership at the top administrative level.

After that, my prospects at landing a new teaching position vanished and I was forced to go through with the hearing. My only chance to continue teaching was to get the board to back me over the superintendent who inspired Joplin after the tornado.

That was why I finally wrote about it in the Turner Report, revealing that during my interrogation with Tina Smith, while I turned off my phone as requested. I used an iPod in my pocket to record all four minutes of it. I also took a photo of the permission slips I received from parents for the use of their children's work in Scars from the Tornado. 

So a few days later, a courier delivered more charges to my apartment.

I had written a pornographic novel called Devil's Messenger and I had violated district policy by recording my interrogation, according to the new charges.

I noted on the Turner Report that Devil's Messenger had been in the South and East Middle School libraries and at Joplin High School for years and had never received any complaints. 

Between my receiving the second batch of charges and my hearing, C. J. Huff visited East to discourage my colleagues from attending by telling them there were "much worse" things that were going to come out about me.

Huff talked to the parents of at least one of the organizers who planned to protest at the hearing on my behalf and said it could keep the student from being accepted at a good college.

The media was told that there would be things said that children shouldn't hear and said children would not be allowed to attend without an adult accompanying them.

Huff also had about a half dozen law enforcement officers at the hearing for security.

The hearing itself was a nightmare. Tina Smith testified that she had talked to a number of girl students and detected evidence of "grooming." When she said that, I took a quick glance at Wally Kennedy, who was covering the story for the Globe. His eyes were rolling. Her evidence of grooming was that all of the girls supported me and did not want to say anything bad about me.

I glanced at the list of students she questioned. It was no surprise that it was only the girls who supported me.

There were no boys on the list- they would have supported me, too.

As the hearing continued, they backed off some of the more sensational claims they had made. I no longer had shared pornographic material with 150 students since they were unable to find any students who had ever heard of No Child Left Alive.

I had made it available to them when I promoted it on my public Facebook page where anyone, even a student, could see the book and buy it.

As for violating district policy by recording my interrogation, the policy I supposedly violated only dealt with recording meetings in which students were involved.

The only people who testified against me were administrators. None of them appeared to be too emotional about it, save one.

C. J. Huff cried and admitted there was no evidence I had ever done anything harmful to a child, but he "could not sleep at night" if I remained in the classroom and he would never want his daughter to have a teacher like me.

Board members were texting and talking with each other like it was a hardship for them to be there. 

After the hearing, a man came up two me and said, "They didn't have a thing on you, Randy."

I thanked him and then introduced the man- Rick Hirshey, the same officer who had escorted me out of the building, to my lawyer.

The board made me wait two weeks before firing me on a 7-0 vote.

The district sent out a news release, giving just the bare facts. I received a call from Wally Kennedy and for the first time I talked on the record to a reporter.

It was a good thing I did. The district did not bother to send out the final written judgment. The news release did not include their conclusion that there was no evidence I had done anything morally wrong. Nor was there ever any effort made to revoke my teaching license.

I violated school policy, the finding said, by making No Child Left Alive available to students through my public Facebook and Twitter accounts, by secretly recording my interrogation by Tina Smith and I did not receive permission from administration to write Scars from the Tornado. The last one was a bit of a shocker since I had been given the O. K. by Principal Bud Sexson to do the book and I kept him updated on its progress. Two witnesses, both parents, told the board that Sexson had been bragging about the book. Sexson, who did not hear those witnesses, testified under oath he had never heard of the book until after it was published.

Wally Kennedy did a good job on the story.

I have always appreciated how Wally handled it, but his newspaper was another story. I discovered months after the hearing that a Joplin Globe editor had tried to talk one of my witnesses out of testifying for me asking her, "How can you support someone who wrote a book like that?

For the next few years, I did my best to land another teaching job, sending out more than 50 applications. I also wrote about the problems in the Joplin R-8 School District and though I don't take credit for what happened, within two years C. J. Huff and all seven board members were gone. I talked with Huff's replacement, Norm Ridder and asked for reinstatement. It was a good conversation, I thought I had a chance, but he never got back in touch with me.

Not only did I not get another teaching job, I was never received an interview. Only one time did a school district check my references.

At times, I had R-8 Board members who backed my reinstatement, but the most encouragement I ever got was that I could apply for jobs in the district, but the final choice would be up to the principals.

Finally, on the last day I could file a lawsuit against the school district before I was barred by the statute of limitations, I filed a lawsuit in Jasper County Circuit Court on June 7, 2018.

I never wanted to sue. I just wanted to be back in the classroom.

Four years later, it was over.

Except for three more things.

Nine months after I was fired for violating a district policy by recording my interrogation, the R-8 Board approved a new district policy that made what I did a violation. 

Second, I suppose I should admit that my headline for this post is misleading- I didn't make C. J. Huff cry.

He can do it on cue.

Finally, of those 50 some applications I sent out, five of the teachers who were hired were later removed from the classroom for having sex with students- including one in the Joplin R-8 School District.


Anonymous said...

WHET Tina Smith?

Anonymous said...

Not that it will come as any consolation now, after all the railroading you have been through, but most of those people have gotten theirs- although it took some time. Now Landis wants into to the Jasper county commissioner- if he gets 2 terms he gets pension/benefits etc… their are so many running for office right now that will never do the right thing for the City, Students or Teachers, because they are driven by their self serving desires. All we can do is continue to stand up and educate people. I commend you for being an educator who believed in a system that failed him, but continued on and held your head high.