The Wilson County School Board fired Tuckers Crossroads sixth grade teacher Matthew Mock by a unanimous vote at the board's regular meeting Monday night for allegedly "engaging in school-wide pranks on paid school time" and "targeting" another teacher "maliciously" in violation of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act.
Not everyone agreed, as two members of the public addressed the board in support of Mock, who attended the meeting - although neither Mock nor his lawyer Michael Clemons of Lebanon addressed the board.
The room was packed with spectators and Nashville television cameras as Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright presented the case against him to the board, reading from a prepared statement.
"I must recommend the dismissal of Matthew Mock, a tenured teacher with the Wilson County School System," Dr. Wright read. "Grounds for seeking his dismissal are conduct unbecoming a member of the teaching profession, neglect of duty, and insubordination."
Wright said the incident in question occurred on May 28, a day when teachers and staff were required to work but school was not in session.
According to her statement, Mock's conduct that day "includes, but is not limited to, targeting specific teachers for illegal harassment, creating a hostile work environment, inappropriate and malicious activity, taking property that did not belong to him for malicious purposes, disregard of work duties while pursuing said activities within the school day, disregard of board policy, and disregard of directions from the principal."
'Lotion on doorknobs'
More specifically, Mock was charged with smearing the teacher's lounge doorknob and a minority teacher's doorknob with some kind of lotion, as well as several other doorknobs in the school. He allegedly was assisted in these "pranks" by two other employees who have also been terminated by not being rehired, but did not have tenure so their cases did not come before the school board.
According to informed reports, those two employees are Melanie Young, a special education assistant and cheer coach, and April Ledsinger, a sixth grade reading and language arts teacher. Mock, a 14-year veteran of the Wilson County School System, most recently taught sixth grade science and coached boys' basketball at TXR.
According to Dr. Wright's statement, the minority teacher noticed the lotion on her classroom doorknob and used her room key to open the door to avoid touching the lotion. But next "the three stood outside her door and began targeting this African American teacher," Wright alleged.
Furthermore, one of them allegedly went into the classroom to speak with the teacher, smeared the inside of her door handle with lotion, and tried to get her to leave. When the teacher told the person she knew what she was trying to do, the person said something which caused Mock, "who was standing right outside the door," to laugh, Wright continued.
'Video shows them in hallway'
The charges also said video of the hallway shows that Mock and the other two spent most of the afternoon outside the teacher's classroom, from around 12:40 to 3 p.m. - and that sometime during the afternoon they were rapping on her window, laughing and talking loudly while the teacher worked on her computer in the dark, locked in her classroom with the blinds closed.
"She felt threatened," Wright read.
Mock also was charged with asking the teacher where her car was since the three somehow got hold of keys to teachers' cars and moved them. When she went down the hall to check on the location of her car, which had been moved to the middle school side of the building, the three allegedly taunted her and laughed about it.
"'Look, she's running,' said one of the three, at which Mr. Mock laughed," the charges said.
Mock is also charged with going into the teacher's locked classroom with a master key and disarranging things. In particular, "a student desk was placed on top of her teacher desk," the charges allege.
Students 'told' to purloin keys
Later that afternoon, Mock allegedly took a set of keys from a teacher's desk, "refused to return them to her when she asked," and used them to move her car.
Mock also told students who were in the building that day, possibly as the children of staff, to get keys out of pocketbooks, the students later allegedly told administrators. He denied taking any keys out of pocketbooks himself, according to the charges.
The statement also says that all of this took place during working hours. When Mock was charged, he was also warned not to contact any of the teachers who were victimized, but the minority teacher was allegedly contacted twice after that warning, according to Dr. Wright.
The teacher allegedly was asked "if she was really scared and if she wrote a statement about the incident," the charges allege. "This has created a hostile work environment."
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act not only prohibits direct harassment for racial or sexual reasons but also prohibits creating "a hostile work environment" for those reasons.
The two people who addressed the school board at the start of the meeting on Mock's behalf included former Tuckers student James Welch, who said he had never known Mock to discriminate in any way among the students he taught or coached.
"I'm here to represent the kids," Welch said. "Don't do this, please. Drop the charges and let him do his job."
The other speaker was Kelly Waldron, a mother of Tuckers Crossroads students. She said, "Mr. Mock is a highly effective teacher. He works well with kids."
Refuting the allegation of possible racial harassment, Waldron added that the minority teacher "wasn't targeted for being African American. She was targeted because the staff involved liked her and mistakenly thought she would find the humor in it."
Waldron also implied that the firing was actually for political reasons, claiming it was because he had written a letter recommending former Assistant TXR Principal Lane Hamnett for the position of principal upon the retirement of Susie Breedwell.
Dr. Wright told the board and those attending the meeting that it is categorically untrue that the firing was politically motivated. She added that she had even been accused of taking bribes in this case, which she also said was untrue.
"That's a criminal charge and I don't take it lightly," she cautioned.
In the end, the board solemnly moved and voted, 5-0, to fire Mock. The other two were in the audience, sitting directly behind him. Mock and his lawyer Clemons have five days to file an appeal, but neither commented after the meeting, departing rapidly.
Writer Connie Esh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.