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UPDATE: School board members weigh in on how district is handling Ooltewah assault

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Some Hamilton County education officials are staying silent while others are taking a stand two weeks after the rape.

 "If we can't stop this, if this is the attitude that we're going to get, we need to reconsider whether anybody can go anywhere overnight," said District 1 Board Member Rhonda Thurman.

Channel 3 learned Wednesday the Ooltewah High School basketball season is over. An announcement Superintendent Rick Smith plans to make at a special called public meeting.

Thurman says that decision should have been made immediately following the rape of a player.

"I think we missed a huge window of opportunity to send the loudest, most clear message that we could to all coaches, and to all players," Thurman said, "If you do anything that even resembles hazing, bullying, or intimidation of any kind, your season is over."

It's not the first time Smith's style of communication has been criticized.

Smith, who has been in the position since 2011, has score above average in annual school board evaluations. But from the beginning the board has noted weaknesses including "working with media, delegating responsibility, seeking staff opinion."

Smith eliminated the Director of Communications position when he started the job, saying in 2011, "I will be speaking for myself, and I expect other administrators and principals to do more of that too.  I don't know if we can run a system of this size without a communications person, but we're going to try it and see where it goes."

 During smith's 2014 evaluation Jonathan Welch of District 2 wrote, "I hear news from parents and media first," indicating a lack of communication.  "our leadership pipeline is vague," he added.

The Ooltewah assault is another example of how board members say Smith does not keep them informed on personnel issues.

"I really wish we could've dealt with it more expeditiously," Ooltewah's District 9 Board Member Dr. Steve Highlander told Channel 3 Monday.

Several school board members say Supt. Rick Smith should have already addressed the issue publicly. District 5 Board Member Karitsa Mosley wrote in a letter to Smith Tuesday, "I am deeply disappointed with the lack of action from you, your office and the administrators at Ooltewah."

David Testerman, who represents District 8, says he feels all the board members "have been left in dark with all aspects of this horrific incident."

Supt. Rick Smith's office again denied Channel-3 an interview request Tuesday morning. Channel-3 caught up with Smith at a luncheon Tuesday where he said he wouldn't comment on the incident until after Wednesday's special session school board meeting which falls on the same day that Ooltewah students return to school from Christmas break.

"Well I think that Ooltewah High School will be prepared for its students tomorrow," Supt. Smith told Channel-3 in his first address to media since the incident. "They've done a good job up to this point. And I know that Principal Jarvis and his staff are ready for the students to return to school tomorrow."

Channel-3 reached out to every school board member Tuesday morning for an updated comment ahead of Wednesday's meeting. We're still awaiting comment from Dr. Jonathan Welch who said via phone Tuesday morning he was busy with several patients and would work on a response at a later time.

  • Rhonda Thurman (District 1): "I wasn't elected to guard the cat litter box, to cover up crap. That is not why I'm here," she told Channel-3 in an interview after news of the incident broke. "I'm here to represent taxpayers and I think the taxpayers want this dealt with swiftly and they want it dealt with now."
  • Dr. Greg Martin (District 3): "First, I want to offer my thoughts and prayers to this child and his family as he recovers at home. I want our community to know that I share their outrage and extreme disappointment in how this situation has been handled to date.  As an elected school leader, it's my responsibility to ensure the truth comes and, if needed, to hold all players, coaches and administrators accountable for their actions.  This is my commitment to you.  Going forward, the school system needs to immediately develop a new hazing and bullying policy that will ensure this kind of behavior is routed out of our school system so we can prevent a similar event from happening again."  
  • George Ricks Sr. (District 4): "I don't want to jump the gun, but I am concerned.  We have policies and procedures in place, and we must respond and react to this in the right manner."
  • Karitsa Mosley (District 5): "I am absolutely heartbroken and outraged about what happened to this young man and his family. As a community, we must take a strong stance that bullying and hazing is unacceptable. To stay silent, is to send the wrong message. The most important thing is that an outside investigation be conducted to ensure those responsible, and anyone who enabled their behavior, are brought to justice. Furthermore, I have expressed my disappointment to the Superintendent about the Departments lack of action and requested a comprehensive review of all policies and procedures to ensure all children are safe in our Schools."
  • Joe Galloway (District 6): "I cannot possibly make comments about this incident until I know all the facts.  So far everything is speculation since the police investigation is ongoing....I am still waiting for much information in that accuracy is critical for making proper decisions."
  • Donna Horn (District 7 & Board Vice Chair): Horn used a metaphor when asked if anything could've been handled differently. "If my house was on fire, I would've been there immediately. And I think there was a house on fire." She added, "In my heart I believe and know that every board member has been absolutely anguished by the events and that we will make sure that something is done so that this young man can move on without having to suffer the pain of what's happened to him and can get on with his life. And most importantly that this never happens to another student under our watch."
  • David Testerman (District 8): "As a member of the Hamilton County School Board, I feel that the handling of this rape case; involving the basketball players from Ooltewah High School was not handled in the proper manner by our administrative leaders. School Board members have been left in dark with all aspects of this horrific incident. I would like to see an independent investigation to be conducted to arrive at truth of this event. This is the most damaging case of student assault that I can recall.  As a retired educator I always believed a school administrator is never totally off duty when it comes to protecting our students from a crime such as this."
  • Dr. Steve Highlander (District 9): "In 44 years, I've never seen anything quite like this," he said in an interview Monday. "This is unique, unfortunately... I really wish we could've dealt with it more expeditiously. If we had dealt with it more swifty, I think it would've been easier on the community and the young people involved... Quite a few Ooltewah alumni are very concerned and I can understand that. I'm very concerned."

If you would like to donate to the Ooltewah HS Basketball player's medical bill click here

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