In this week’s Shopper-News, sometimes MP contributor Betty Bean has a story that surely will only add fuel to the fire against embattled Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre. Bean reports after recently elected 9th District Board of Education member Amber Rountree attended one of McIntyre’s back-to-school tours at Dogwood Elementary, she received an e-mail from him two days later, in which he said he had:
“fielded a few questions … about your status, which I answered tactfully. I’m starting to become a bit concerned that some people may perceive it as inappropriate for you to be accompanying me on school visits while you are a paid school librarian out on medical leave. Sorry to broach a potentially sensitive subject, but I just wanted to make sure you know that such questions are being asked.”
Rountree announced her pregnancy the day after winning her election over incumbent (and McIntyre fan) Pam Trainor in May. She’s due Sept. 8 and will be sworn in as a board member on Tuesday, barring an early arrival from the baby. Rountree is resigning her position as an elementary school librarian to serve on the board, effective Sept. 1. Like most teachers, she had the summer off. After helping her replacement get settled in at the beginning of the school year, Rountree has used her previously accumulated sick days as an early maternity leave—a formal process with a doctor’s note that was approved by the school system in accordance with this section of state law:
0520-1-2-.04 LEAVE FOR TEACHERS.
(1) The term “teacher” shall mean any person employed by a local board of education in a position which requires a license issued by the State Department of Education. The term “teacher” shall not apply to a substitute teacher.
(2) Sick Leave. “Sick leave” shall mean leave of absence because of illness of a teacher from natural causes or accident, quarantine, or illness or death of a member of the immediate family of a teacher, including the teacher’s wife or husband, parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, mother-in-law, father-in-law, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law. Upon written request of the teacher accompanied by a statement from her physician verifying pregnancy, any teacher who goes on maternity leave shall be allowed to use all or a portion of her accumulated sick leave for maternity leave purposes during the period of her physical disability only, as determined by a physician.
Rountree had been scheduled to attend an board orientation session on Aug. 21, along with the other incoming members, Terry Hill and Patti Lou Bounds. But on Aug. 18, McIntyre e-mailed Rountree again. Here’s Bean:
McIntyre sent another email informing her that she would not be allowed to attend an Aug. 21 orientation session for incoming board members “given the fact you are out on maternity leave due to physical disability.”
He said he’d set up a separate session for her after Sept. 2.
Later that day, Rountree sent McIntyre an email reply telling him she’d checked with David Buuck, the chief deputy law director, who assured her that there was no legal reason to bar her from attending … McIntyre responded the next day:
“I certainly appreciate the opinion of the deputy law director, but I’m not willing to accept the risk, nor any potential appearance of impropriety.”
We got a copy of all the emails from Buuck, and you should definitely read them. Even if McIntyre was acting in a manner that he thought was best per KCS policies, the optics are still amazingly bad. Rountree has been vocally critical of McIntyre for the past year, so for him to attempt to delay her service on the board because she happens to be nearing the end of her pregnancy just don’t look good for him, or for an administration perceived by many as unsympathetic to teachers.
But, wait, there’s more! Although Bean didn’t get to it, Buuck also notes in an e-mail to Rountree that McIntyre’s rules for the Teacher Advisory Council—which prevent any member of the group recording the meetings—are in violation of state Sunshine Laws. You can bet that once Rountree takes office next week, that’ll be one of the first things she addresses.
For her part, Rountree says she was “taken aback” by McIntyre’s e-mails about her pregnancy.
“I went on a half-hour walking tour of the school. That’s not the same as teaching six classes while standing up all day,” Rountree says. “I didn’t see a problem with me going to the orientation—it’s not like there’s some physical fitness component to it, you know?”
Rountree was walked into the orientation last week by Buuck and allowed to attend after all. And she says that she doesn’t feel that McIntyre was intentionally trying to discriminate against her on the basis of her pregnancy. (Whether he might have been because he’s simply not too fond of her—well, who knows.)
“All’s well that ends well,” Rountree says. “We’re all working together for the kids, and I hope I can have a harmonious working relationship with the superintendent going forward.”
We asked McIntyre’s office for comment this morning. They’re still “working on it” and will have a statement out “by the end of the day.” We’ll update here with their side of things when we get it.
UPDATE: KCS spokesperson Melissa Ogden just sent us the following statement from McIntyre:
“The e-mail correspondence with Ms. Rountree was intended to make sure she was aware of our protocols for employees on paid sick leave, and I believe the messages speak for themselves. I look forward to working closely with Ms. Rountree when she resigns as a school librarian and takes her seat on the School Board next week,” McIntyre says.
Perhaps this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship? (We won’t hold our breath.)