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Tuscola football coach, principal suspended in close succession

Tuscola football coach, principal suspended in close succession

Both Tuscola Principal Heather Blackmon and head football coach Chris Brookshire have been suspended from their positions at the school — though not on the same day, or even the same week. 

Because this is a personnel matter, Superintendent Dr. Trevor Putnam would not comment on the nature of the suspensions.

Blackmon was suspended with pay on Dec. 16. Brookshire was first suspended with pay on Dec. 7, and then suspended without pay on Dec. 16. Blackmon was hired on as principal in July of 2020; Brookshire was hired as physical education teacher, head football coach, weights coach and JV boys’ basketball assistant coach in January 2020.

While speculation has run rampant, the public will not be privy to the reasons for suspension until the Haywood County School Board has made a final decision regarding the employment status of each person.

Blackmon has been suspended with pay, while Brookshire, though first suspended with pay, has been suspended without pay. This not only suggests a rather stark difference in the alleged misconduct of the two people, but also means that the processes for dealing with that misconduct will differ.

When an employee is suspended without pay, they can request a hearing before the board of education. If no request is made within 15 days, the superintendent may file their recommendation with the board. The board will then use evidence presented by the superintendent, and the hearing, if one is held, to make a final decision.

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When an employee is suspended with pay, they may be suspended for up to 90 days. If the superintendent does not initiate dismissal or demotion proceedings against the employee within the 90-day period, the employee has to be reinstated to their duties immediately and all records of the suspension with pay can be removed from the personnel file. However, if the superintendent and the employee agree to extend the 90-day period, the superintendent may initiate dismissal or demotion proceedings against the career employee at any time during the period of the extension.

In order to be suspended, an employee must display inadequate performance; immorality; insubordination; neglect of duty; physical or mental incapacity; habitual or excessive use of alcohol or nonmedical use of a controlled substance; conviction of a felony or a crime involving moral turpitude; advocating the overthrow of the government of the united States or of the State of North Carolina by force, violence, or other unlawful means; failure to fulfill the duties and responsibilities imposed upon teachers by the General Statutes of North Carolina; failure to comply with such reasonable requirements as the board may prescribe; any cause which constitutes grounds for the revocation of a career employee’s teaching license; failure to maintain licensure; providing false information or knowingly omitting a material fact on an application for employment.

While these board hearings would likely take place in closed session, the public would be notified of the date and time of those meetings.

In an email to Tuscola staff Wednesday morning, Dec. 21, Assistant Principal Jacob Shelton pleaded with staff not to engage in the social media reaction to the suspension.

“I highly encourage you to: 1- not look at it and/or 2 - take into consideration that you are a HCS employee when the urge to respond to, comment on, or like a social media post hits,” Shelton wrote in the email. “As I mentioned the other day the rumors circulating have a high probability of being totally false. Please do not put yourself in a precarious position by indulging in the frenzy even though I’m sure you’ll be defending this school or someone who works here.”

According to school board policy, “employees shall not use Internet postings to libel or defame the board, individual board members, students, or other school employees. Employees shall not use Internet postings to harass, bull, or intimidate students or other employees in violation of policy… ”

Consequences for violating the policy on social media can be disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal.

Over the past several years, the school board has consistently voted in favor of the recommendations of both recently retired Superintendent Dr. Bill Nolte and current Superintendent Dr. Trevor Putnam. This track record would indicate that when this matter comes before the board, it is likely the board will accept administration’s recommendation.

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