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TISD Teacher resigns amid allegations of child grooming

TISD Teacher resigns amid allegations of child grooming

By Abigail Allen


      Tioga ISD faces a new challenge as a result of its financial difficulties—the loss of its District of Innovation status.

      Starting in the 2024-25 school year, the district will not qualify as a District of Innovation, which will affect the district's ability to implement local policies on such things as the start date of the school year and hiring teachers who lack traditional teaching certifications but who have experience in the trades.

      “That has been around several years,” Superintendent Josh Ballinger said. “We just adopted a plan again for five years in '22 that should have carried us through '27. What that means for our district, the most significant one is the one that we just put into place a couple of years ago with our four-day school week.”

      Keeping that kind of calendar will take a lot of planning and effort, Ballinger said.

TISD Teacher resigns amid allegations of child grooming

      “We would have to get pretty creative on how we manage that because we are no longer allowed to start before the fourth Monday of August,” he said. “So, we will not be starting school for the '24-25 school year until Aug. 26.”

      The state's decision is tied to the district's third F on the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas report, for which the district tried but was unable to obtain an appeal.

      Some of the other policies affected by the change would include who the district can hire to fill certain teaching positions.

      “We've talked for several years about bringing people in that have trade skills or something specific that can be taught to our kids,” Ballinger said. “That's not going to be on the table anymore unless you have a valid teaching certification from the state of Texas.”

      Also at the meeting, following an executive session, the board voted to accept the resignation of Brad Strickland, who had been the subject of a level three grievance filed by Mary and Wiley Alexander regarding his interactions with their daughter, Abigail Jewell.

      Before accepting the resignation, the board turned to Rebecca Bradley of the firm Abernathy, Roeder, Boyd and Hullett to explain why a contract teacher cannot be immediately terminated as requested by the Alexanders.

      “Taking all of the procedure into account, along with the district's financial condition and the well-being of all teachers, a resignation is typically the most fiscally responsible and expeditious action in terminating an employee and removing them from the payroll of the district,” Bradley said.

TISD Teacher resigns amid allegations of child grooming

      Strickland was in his eighth year of employment at Tioga ISD.

      Bradley specified that a resignation does not stop an investigation into allegations of misconduct.

      “The district's action to accept the resignation rather than termination would not limit an outside entity, including the State Board of Education Certification, which is publicly available online, to continue to investigate and ensure that this person does not continue to be employed by a school district,” Bradley said.

      Several comments public comments were made in regard to the Strickland situation during the sessions at the start and close of the main open session of the meeting.

      Board President Stacy Price clarified at the start of the meeting that comments would be limited to three minutes instead of five, as is usually the board's policy.

      Visitors to the district spoke about concerns regarding child grooming.

TISD Teacher resigns amid allegations of child grooming

      Aileen Blachowski, who is part of Texas Education 911, said she and other members of that group have brought the Tioga ISD grievance to the attention of state officials, including the governor.

      “They are aware of the issues with the educator misconduct reporting system,” she said. “They are aware of the problems with grievances, and we are working to resolve them. So I'm just here as a representative of that statewide network to let you know that we are watching. The governor's office is watching, and our legislators are watching.”

      Two teachers in Tioga ISD spoke about their love of the district and their desire to support their students, Allison Perry and Kelly Howell.

      Howell added that she's concerned about the potential impact on teachers of the public perception of teachers when they help support students emotionally.

      “Aside from the subjects we teach, we wear many hats,” she said. “Nurse, therapists, mentor, cheerleader, and, yes, sometimes we're the parent. We give advice, encouragement, constructive criticism. Sometimes we provide snacks and school supplies, emotional support and we give lots and lots of grace.”

      The complaint gives her pause despite being taught that best practices in teaching requires her “we must form bonds with our students.”

      “Do we need to be worried now?” she asked. “Is someone going to take a picture of me giving a kid a side hug with my hand on their shoulder, crop it and say, 'This teacher is grooming my child.' Do we need to be worried about that?”

      The final speaker of the first public comment section was Jewell herself, who said she wanted to share her perspective on the complaint filed by the Alexanders.

      “I have not once been reached out to by any media outlet, those who say they are concerned or the school board,” Jewell said.

      She described Strickland and his wife as “gracious, loving and attentive,” saying she felt “alone and isolated” in the Alexanders' home.

      “I was blessed enough for Brad and Nicole to provide their home to me after graduation and gave me a safe space to grow,” Jewell said. “I have not abandoned my plans on going to college or law school, and have truly never been happier despite the heinous words that have been [spoken] about those I love.”

TISD Teacher resigns amid allegations of child grooming

      She shared her phone number, encouraging people to reach out to her to hear her perspective, and she expressed gratitude for the educators in her life.

      “I believe all teachers have a sixth sense as to what goes on at home in their students' lives, even if they don't talk about it,” Jewell said.

      Mary and Wiley spoke during the second public comment session.

      Mary disputed Jewell's characterization of her and her husband as parents and again described Strickland's actions as child grooming.

      “Her statement was pretty tough to hear,” she said. “And, we are not alcoholics. We have never been neglectful of her or anything else bad that she said when she spoke. We're not perfect parents, but I want to know who in here is. You need to understand that that's how groomers work.”

      Wiley added that they “have found some additional information” that might be investigated by Grayson County.

      “The rules and regulations of this school, he broke numerous times,” he said. “The rules and regulations of teachers' code of ethics he broke numerous times. That right there is enough to fire him. … It's not a right for a teacher to have a license to teach in this state. It is a privilege.”


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