The Walker County school board was met Monday night with a full house of students and parents, who turned out for the board meeting to get answers and show support for LaFayette High School Principal Mike Culberson.
Speculation surrounding Culberson's employment came into question over the weekend, exploding all over social media, as well as a walkout that occurred at the school Monday.
According to a press release from Walker County Schools Superintendent Damon Raines, Culberson is still the active principal at LHS. Culberson did not show up for school Monday for personal reasons, Raines said.
The press release from Raines' office reads:
"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."
Raines told those in attendance that the Walker Board of Education is currently in the middle of a federal lawsuit and "the public participation policy is enjoined," meaning that there is no current public participation policy for school board meetings.
"Until that matter is settled, it's at the 11th Circuit (Court), so we will wait to see what the court decides. That is why there is no public participation in our meetings now," Raines said.
"I want to clarify a couple of things. 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," Raines said.
Raines said the standardized basic grading was not the issue and the school board plans to move forward.
"So a personnel issue is completely different," Raines said.
Raines told the crowd — like in most — jobs he cannot talk about personnel issues.
Request for privacy
Raines said he received an email from Culberson Monday afternoon asking for respect for his privacy.
"He said respect my privacy. 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," Raines said.
Next school year called into question
"There are things going on that you may not understand. You've just heard this approved and on the back of this (holds up documentation), it says, 'not offered contract for the next year 2017-2018 and Mr. Culberson's name is listed there'," Raines said.
Raines said he wanted everyone to know everything before they walked out of the door.
"So, just for full disclosure, okay? I don't think there are questions that we can answer just based on the reasoning I just gave you," he said.
Raines said he appreciated those in attendance, the students who support Culberson and LaFayette High School as well.
"I appreciate our students. I truly do. Standing up and being seen and doing what they feel like they do. That's wonderful. I think that is awesome," Raines said.
"There are issues here that we can't talk about and we're not going to talk about and there has to be a level of trust there and I hope that level of trust exists," he said.
Per the school board, Culberson is expected to return to LaFayette High School on Tuesday, March 21.
"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. For full disclosure, he is still under contract for the remaining parts of this year."
The response from Raines left many of the students and the parents in attendance frustrated as to a lack of disclosing specific details pertaining to the situation involving Culberson and were very vocal as they left the meeting saying, "this is not fair."
A similar vocal response from parents and teachers to the questioning of an official's status within Walker County Public Schools occurred in September 2015.
On Sept. 15, 2015, more than 150 people turned out in protest for what, they claimed, was the forced resignation of Cherokee Ridge Elementary School Principal Lori Vann.
Raines told those in attendance at the September 2015 meeting that Vann was still employed with the school and was on a vacation at the time of the meeting. At that time, Vann had been an educator for about 30 years.
Parents, students and teachers flooded the school board meeting seeking answers as to why Vann was not on the job.
School board members declined to comment at that time because, they said, it was a personnel matter.
Raines gave this prepared statement regarding Vann on Sept. 18, 2015:
"Ms. Lori Vann, current principal of Cherokee Ridge Elementary School, made contact with the superintendent the morning of September 12. Ms. Vann requested immediate vacation time to begin the process of retirement. After the board planning session on Tuesday, September 15, I scheduled a meeting with Ms. Vann to discuss the current situation and to clear some of the confusion being portrayed on social media and throughout the community. The meeting took place on Thursday, September 17 at 2:00 p.m. Prior to that meeting, the only information the members of the Board of Education or the superintendent could legally share was her request for vacation. During this meeting Ms. Vann expressed her desire to return to Cherokee Ridge Elementary, as her retirement plans did not appear to be a viable option this year. Ms. Vann has a statement that she will present at a scheduled faculty meeting to assure the faculty and staff understand the facts surrounding her recent vacation time and her choice to postpone her wishes to retire and to return to school in her normal capacity.
"At no point was Ms. Vann asked to resign. At no point did the superintendent make a recommendation to the board regarding termination of her employment.
"Our goal has been and will continue to be to assure our students are focused on academic progress and their achievement levels while continuing to prepare them for graduation and a successful future."