Knox Co. Schools Board of Education Ethics Committee discusses complaints

The Knox County Schools Board of Education Ethics Committee met Tuesday afternoon to discuss and take possible action on complaints it has received.
Nine people filed complaints against the trio
Published: Mar. 1, 2022 at 12:45 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 1, 2022 at 4:10 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The Knox County Schools Board of Education Ethics Committee met Tuesday afternoon to discuss and take possible action on complaints it has received. They also voted to elect board member Mike McMillan as the chair of the committee.

On Feb. 16, a Knox County Schools parent of three named Amanda Collins filed two complaints against KCS BOE members Betsy Henderson, Susan Horn and Kristi Kristy.

Collins is one of nine people who filed complaints against the Board of Education members.

The committee voted on Tuesday in 3-0 unanimous vote in favor to use a more formal complaint form and that board member and Ethics Committee member Jennifer Owen to make the complaints form more workable.

The committee also voted in a 3-0 vote to discuss the complaints, particularly the ones with Henderson, Horn and Kristy at the County Commission meeting, at the next board meeting on March 9. They would like to look at the video from the county commission meeting then address the other complaints filed to the board.

Collins stated the first complaint is in regards to Knox County Board of Education policy B-112 where board members are “to accept the will of the majority vote in all cases and give support to the resulting action.”

In the complaint Collins stated on Feb. 9, during a regular session, the Board passed five different motions regarding the Knox County Law Department’s involvement in litigation concerning the preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer requiring universal masking in Knox County Schools. All of the motions passed and the Law Department was reportedly told to do “everything they feel is possible as quickly as they can that does not violate rules or jeopardize the case.”

She also stated on that same day, board members Henderson and Kristy submitted a signed letter to Knox County Law Director David Buuck that stated: “We are formally requesting that [Buuck] immediately hire expert outside counsel to represent the Knox County Board of Education in the Case known as the mask mandate case….As members of the Board of Education, if you refuse to hire outside counsel, we are requesting that the Knox County Commission pass a resolution for the Board to do so.”

On Feb. 14, Collins cited Buuck responded to that letter:

“You have also been made aware of the law in this county as set out by Chancellor Sharon Bell in 2003, wherein she held that the school board could not hire outside counsel. Even if possible, the hiring of outside counsel would cause significant additional expense and would only replicate that which our Office has already filed….As a final note, although you are free to express your individual opinions on the campaign trail and otherwise, you have no authority to represent the KCSBOE outside of what the full Board has approved. I point out what you request is contrary to the motion passed at the Feb. 9, 2022 meeting that “the Law Department do everything they feel is possible as quickly as they can that does not violate rules or jeopardize the case. This Office is following that direction of the Board and will continue to do so.”

Collins wrote, the following day, Henderson, Horn and Kristy attended the Knox County Commission work session and presented a resolution to the Commission to authorize the Board to hire outside counsel on behalf of the full Board without authorization, despite the Board’s approved motion on Feb. 9.

The parent told WVLT News that she felt the board members were breaching protocol to do something that the board had voted specifically not to do.

“Despite the board voting against hiring outside counsel and despite Mr. Buuck explaining that it really was not possible they then attended - the three of them -Ms. Henderson, Ms. Kristy and Ms. Horn - attended the county commission meeting and basically petitioned for a resolution that would permit the board to do that,” Collins said. “And that is really where I felt like they were, they really were undermining a majority board vote by then saying we were in the minority on this vote so we are going to go ask somebody else and see if we get a different answer.”

“You have board members who are going behind the majority of the board to ask somebody else to do something that the board said they didn’t want to do. I just don’t understand what we’re doing with this body,” said Collins in an interview with WVLT News.

Caitlin Jones is a KCS parent who has a son with Down syndrome and autism. Jones said she feels the three members who are accused of going to the county commission meeting are ones that have consistently stood up for all children with disabilities when it comes to the universal mask wearing issue. She was at the meeting holding a sign that said “Your facts aren’t facts without censoring us.”

“I feel that it is a way for certain people in other districts are trying to silence other districts and I don’t think that is necessary or ok,” Jones explained.

Collins second complaint filed to the KCS BOE Ethics Committee is regarding the Tennessee Open Meetings Act Notice of Special Meetings.

The letter to the Ethics Committee stated, “By privately communicating to decide and arrange the actions of Feb. 15 and selectively disseminating their intent to appear at Commission, Henderson, Horn and Kristy violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act.”

WVLT News has emailed the trio to see if they have any comments about the complaints.

There were many other complaints that they struggled to address, leading to a vote to make the complaint process more simple. The committee said a draft would be put together to ensure all the details of each complaint were submitted to them so they could address each one.

Susan Horn responded to WVLT News and said the committee would discuss the complaints at next Wednesday’s meeting.

The KCS BOE Ethics Committee consists of Mike McMillan as the Chair, and Jennifer Owen and Evetty Satterfield as members.

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