Raines at school board meeting

Walker County Schools Superintendent Damon Raines addresses concerned LaFayette High School students and parents at Monday's school board meeting. (Messenger photo/Josh O’Bryant)

That Mike Culberson will not return as LaFayette High School's principal when the 2017-2018 school year begins was officially announced when the Walker County school board held its regularly scheduled meeting Monday, March 20.

But neither the board nor Superintendent Damon Raines offer any explanation — other than it is a "personnel issue" — for why Culberson, with 24 years experience as an educator and now in his eighth year as LHS principal, will not return.

In a press release issued earlier in the day, Raines stated, "There have been no personnel changes in the administration at LaFayette High School. Mr. Mike Culberson is still principal; however, he is not on campus today for personal reasons."

Earlier that day, in a show of support, Raines said more than 100 LHS students walked out to the football field at the beginning of second block.

"It was very peaceful and orderly," the superintendent said.

Addressing the overflow crowd attending the board meeting, Raines affirmed that the reason Culberson will be replaced is not something that can be discussed in public.

"I want to clarify a couple of things," he said. "One, that we're talking about a personnel issue. A personnel issue that has nothing to do with standards basic grading. I want to clarify that. There is nothing going on with standards basic grading. We are moving forward. So that's not an issue here."

The superintendent said he appreciated students and parents showing their support for LaFayette High and its principal.

"I appreciate our students. I truly do," Raines said. "Standing up and being seen and doing what they feel like they do — that's wonderful. I think that is awesome."

Raines said Culberson sent an email Monday afternoon, March 20, asking that the matter be kept private.

"He said 'respect my privacy'," the superintendent said. "I was going to do that regardless, because this is a personnel issue. It's a matter of personnel and I'm not going to discuss it."

The response from Raines left many attending the board meeting frustrated — and vocal — about a lack of specific details pertaining to the situation involving Culberson being provided.

"This is not fair" several said when leaving the meeting.

Raines replied, saying, "There are issues here that we can't talk about — and we're not going to talk about. There has to be a level of trust there and I hope that level of trust exists."

The board's action Monday evening (March 20) dealt only with next year's contract and Culberson was expected to return to his school on Tuesday (March 21) and fulfill the terms of his employment. The board's decision is the only action that will be taken against Culberson, but he is not being offered employment by Walker Schools next year.

"This has nothing to do with the contract he is currently under," Raines said. "So he will complete the school year and then we will see what happens after that."

The superintendent reiterated that what happened this week had nothing to do with a fight at the school or and standards-based grading issues.

"Contracts for administration are always brought before the (school) board and approved in March. Teachers and other staff contracts are approved in April each year," he said.

Josh O'Bryant is a general assignment reporter and covers the Walker-Catoosa County area. He can be reached at the Walker County Messenger office at 706-638-1859 and by email at jobryant@npco.com.