Leader Blues

Friday, June 16, 2006

TOP STORY>> PCSSD silent on possible pupil abuse

By John Hofheimer
Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: The PCSSD refuses to comment on allegations that a Jacksonville band teacher choked and hit a young boy in his class and has acted inappropriately with young students in the past.


Is the Pulaski County Special School District covering up for a teacher alleged to have have struck and choked an 11-year-old boy student in March—a teacher who has kept his job despite allegations previously of inappropriate behavior with young female students?


Donna Easter says band instructor Mark Bailey choked her son and hit him in the chest on March 20 and the following day, her husband filed a report with the Jacksonville Police Department.


But neither the school principal nor the PCSSD officials would confirm that the incident occurred, had been investigated or whether or not the Bailey had been disciplined—or even if he was still employed by the district.


“If we did have something with Mr. Bailey, that would be a personnel issue and I wouldn’t be at liberty to confirm or deny that,” said Rhonda Harnish, director of certified personnel, Thursday afternoon.


She would neither confirm nor deny that Bailey had been disciplined, that such an attack had been reported to the school or even whether there had been an investigation or hearing.


Neither would Jacksonville Boys Middle School Principal Mike Nellums discuss the matter. Asked if he knew of the alleged attack and reports that Bailey had been placed on leave with pay as a result, Nellums said, “I can neither confirm nor deny those reports.”


He confirmed that he did have two band teachers, Eddie Paul and Mark Bailey. He said Eddie Paul would return next year, but would neither confirm nor deny that Bailey had been transferred or fired. No one answered the phone at a number listed for Mark Bailey in Vilonia Friday afternoon.


Another mother, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Bailey should have been “run out of the district and the profession a long time ago” for inappropriate behavior with young girl students.


Two years ago, she said, her daughter and two other young girls went into Bailey’s classroom to get some candy from his desk. “He got one of the little girls and placed her head in his crotch,” according to the mother. Bailey also used to tickle her daughter, she said.


The woman met for two hours, she said, with the principal and vice principal and with Bailey, who “wouldn’t say whether he had ever been accused of inappropriate be-havior previously.”


All that came out of that meeting was a new “no-touching, no hugging policy,” said the mother. No discipline. “In my opinion, the girls were being sexually harassed,” she said.


She added that the Jacksonville police wouldn’t follow up because it “was not sexual,” and that SCAN wouldn’t get involved because there was no police investigation.


“He does not belong in the classroom,” she insisted.


She said recent talk in the community about Bailey’s most recent alleged abuse—hitting the boy—has reminded people of the earlier allegations. According to the March 21 report filed with the Jacksonville Police Department by the boy’s guardian, Carl Easter, Bailey told the boy to sit down, grabbed him in the throat and hit him in the chest.


Donna Easter put it like this: “He choked my son, slammed him in a chair and popped him in the chest.”


“I don’t know why the teacher did him like that. He hasn’t had any other problems. He’s 11 and real small for his age.”


Easter said the Jacksonville police never investigated and the State Police apparently found insufficient basis for charges.
The officer taking the report noted no injuries.


A Jacksonville police spokesman said the report had been turned over to detectives, who had forwarded it to John Huggins, the local prosecutor. Huggins was in court Friday afternoon, but his boss, Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley, said he wasn’t aware of any report forwarded to his office.


“Nobody cares,” Donna Easter said. If there was a hearing or investigation—and school officials won’t say—no one let Easter or her son know, she said. She added that PCSSD Superintendent James Sharpe didn’t return her call.