Tina Bennett said she had met with administrators last year and reported that a teacher within the Durant Public School system had kissed her daughter.
“If you have a problem, you always report to [a] school employee or superintendent. Well, I reported mine to the assistant superintendent, the problem that we had, and then we had a meeting from there,” said Bennett, who would not release the name of the teacher. “They know who it is. I’ve met with all of them, and they know who it is.”
For the better part of the last month, reports from multiple sources told the Democrat that the teacher in question was Barry Hudson, who also serves as the school’s high school girls basketball coach. Durant attorney Thomas Marcum said he was at the board meeting Monday representing the Hudson family, but “did not hear a name that would have alleged coach Hudson or any other teacher.”
Bennett began her comments to the board, addressing the alleged incident.
“My daughter was 17 years old when her teacher at the high school had intimate physical contact with her and kissed her. He kissed her on school grounds by the bus with no one else around in the late evening hours,” Bennett told board. “This teacher admitted to kissing her in the presence of the administration, following a reporting of this incident. His excuses of why doesn’t matter, and the administrations excuses of her perceiving it wrong doesn’t matter. Nothing has been done to protect my daughter from the daily emotional, physiological stress and psychological manipulation that educated teachers are well-versed if they choose to enact.
“I’m here to ask you, how can we stop school employees from abusing professional status and power of authority to cause emotional distress that is detrimental to our children, and where does Durant Public Schools draw the line for unwarranted sexual advances toward a minor.
“It is never appropriate for a school employee to be kissing their students. This teacher tainted the atmosphere of mutual trust and respect between my daughter and himself. And who can a minor report these types of incidents to and know that they will be protected and that they will have a safe environment to continue to learn. Procedures we took did not create a safe environment for us.
“Environment includes physical and emotional surroundings. Our children deserve a safe, restricted(ive) free environment of equal opportunity to learn and grow. It is too late for you to protect my child from suffering the effects of the teachers’ inappropriate behaviors. She suffers daily with negative reactions and comments of teachers and fellow peers having to take sides.”
Bennett later told the Democrat that she chose to come forward now because “retaliation” against her daughter had intensified over the last few weeks.
She began to choke with emotion as she summed up her statement to the board, “She has lost her senior year and the memories that come with the experiences of that year. Her best friends that this teacher’s still involved with feel that they have to isolate her in front of her teacher or he will retaliate against them. Teachers that used to love (my daughter) won’t talk to her and give her dirty looks, because they are taking sides.
“What can Durant public schools do differently to protect other children from having to endure this environment on a daily basis. Does Durant Public Schools need to be in the news like Marietta and Coleman in order to change policy and procedures with expectations of all teachers? Children do not have a voice, and if you do not believe that, watch T.V. tonight. Today I hope to be the voice for all children in the Durant schools.
“The children’s parents are their voice. This is why I have met with each board member in person and on the phone in regards to the retaliation that has occurred following the sexual advances and physical intimate contact that we reported last year regarding this teacher. Please do the right thing and protect our children. That is all I’m asking.”
Durant Superintendent Jason Simeroth cited privacy issues in addressing the comments.
“Any sort of actions that are taken with school personnel regarding any incident whatsoever ... we are not legally able to disclose,” said Simeroth. “We are not able to share that information publicly. There are things in place, but we can’t divulge any personal information to anyone.
“As far as policies and procedures go, we prefer to speak through our lawyers on those issues.”
Attorney Bryan Drummond, who represents Durant public schools with the Rosenstein, Fist and Ringold law firm, addressed the matter Tuesday morning.
“The school district is aware of the allegations, and the school district conducted a thorough investigation,” said Drummond. “The safety of the students of the school is one of the top priorities of the school district and they do everything they can to protect the students from harm. Every allegation they receive they look into, because they value the students so much.
“The school would be prohibited from releasing any details of any steps it took specifically to anybody because of confidentiality requirements. If policy is changed, that is something that is made public. Whenever you’re dealing with a specific person, that matter is kept private.”