District responds to claims against former principal

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Updated: 9/10/2013 10:53 pm
ALCORN COUNTY, Miss. (WTVA) -- It's a situation that leaves few people talking, at least on camera: the termination and subsequent education license loss of former Alcorn Central Middle School principal Dan Burcham.

"The superintendent immediately began an investigation to determine if the complaint was true and, if so, what disciplinary measure would be appropriate," Alcorn School District School Board attorney Jimmy Price said, quoting a one-page statement released from the district Tuesday.

The statement indicates over the course of the district's investigation, officials determined the allegations were true and Burcham was subsequently terminated.

Those allegations range from using a cell phone to take photos and videos of students and teachers to what Price says amounts to mishandling of the school's petty cash fund.

"The principal had the right, by statute, to appeal this action of the school board to the Alcorn County Chancery Court, but did not do so," Price said from the statement.

Superintendent Gina Rogers Smith did, however, send the findings from the investigation to the Mississippi Department of Education as required by state law.

A hearing last week found "clear and convincing evidence" Burcham had "engaged in unethical conduct relating to an educator/student relationship."

"The Commission determined there was overwhelming evidence," Price said.

Burcham's educator license was revoked as a result.

Some parents said Burcham should be investigated further, but the district attorney's office said there was insufficient evidence to justify criminal charges in at least one incident which took place in 2010, according to the statement.

Both Price and Superintendent Smith declined to answer any questions outside the scope of the one-page statement.

What the district doesn't answer, though, is what the school plans to do going forward, whether that involves counseling or stricter guidelines for administrators.

WTVA News reached out to several parents and teachers to voice their concerns on camera for this story.

The overwhelming reason given by most when they declined the interview: they say they're fearful of repercussions from the school district, and add that school officials just want to put that incident behind them.

Here is the full statement released Tuesday by the Alcorn School District:

"The incident involving the termination of a principal of the Alcorn School District for inappropriate conduct began when a complaint was made to the Superintendent concerning this alleged improper conduct. The superintendent immediately began an investigation to determine if the complaint was true and, if so, what disciplinary measure would be appropriate.

As a result of the investigation the superintendent determined that the allegations were true and that termination was the appropriate punishment. She then terminated the principal for inappropriate conduct and for mishandling of the school’s petty cash fund. Upon being terminated, the principal requested a hearing to determine if his termination was appropriate. This hearing could be held either by the school board or by a hearing officer appointed by the school board. In order to insure absolute fairness in the conduct of the hearing, the board appointed a former Chancery Judge to serve as the hearing officer.

A lengthy evidentiary hearing was held with the hearing officer presiding. Two or three days after the hearing concluded, the hearing officer entered a written report reciting there was overwhelming evidence to support the termination of the principal by the superintendent. This report together with the hearing transcript was reviewed by the Alcorn School Board, as required by law, and the school board entered a formal order adopting the report of the hearing officer and affirming the principal’s termination by the superintendent effective as of the date of the hearing. The principal had the right, by statue, to appeal this action of the school board to the Alcorn County Chancery Court, but did not do so. This terminated all legal proceedings involving the principal’s termination in so far as the local school district was concerned.
 
However, under state law the superintendent was required to, and did, send a complete copy of the proceedings and the evidence admitted in the hearing to the State Department of Education. The Mississippi Commission on Teacher and Administrator Education, Certification, and Licensure and Development instituted a proceeding and held an evidentiary hearing for the purpose of determining whether or not the principal’s license should be revoked. The issue concerning the principal’s mishandling of the petty cash fund was not involved in this hearing, but was referred by the local district to the State Auditor’s Office for further handling of that issue. The local district was not involved in the license revocation proceeding except to respond to subpoenas and to testify at the formal hearing. The Commission determined that there was overwhelming evidence to justify the revocation of this principal’s license and so notified the local district.

As required by law, the local district also notified the Sheriff’s Office and responded to inquiries from the District Attorney’s Office concerning the principal’s improper activities, specifically including a report from two witnesses that the principal had taken an inappropriate picture of a student on one occasion in 2010 after school was out and provided these law enforcement agencies with copies of all evidence in the local district’s possession. The district was later advised by the District Attorney’s Office that there was insufficient evidence of a criminal act to justify prosecution."
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