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School board votes to dismiss Driver

School board votes to dismiss Driver

Posted: Friday, June 26, 2009 9:12 pm

Messenger Staff Reporter
The Obion County School Board voted late Thursday night to dismiss longtime South Fulton High School agriculture teacher Bryant Driver on a charge of unprofessional conduct, levied following accusations by a female student.
Both 46-year-old Driver and the student, 18-year-old Samantha Collier, were among those who testified at a nearly four hour long administrative hearing held in the library at Obion County Central High School.
After hearing testimony that concluded at 10:15 p.m. Thursday, the board voted 6-0 that it believed the proof presented sustained the charge of unprofessional conduct, which had been certified by the board at its May meeting. Then, board members voted 6-0 to dismiss Driver, a tenured teacher with 24 years of service in the Obion County School System.
On a charge of insubordination, which had been certified by the board in April, the board also voted 6-0 that the proof presented sustained the charge. The board subsequently voted by the same margin that the penalty would be 30 days suspension without pay and a requirement to undergo counseling for the insubordination charge.
The more serious unprofessional conduct charge stemmed from accusations made against Driver by Miss Collier the morning of April 2, shortly after she and other FFA students returned from a trip to the annual FFA convention in Gatlinburg.
The insubordination charge was the result of an incident in which Driver, while on suspension status, allegedly came to a school-sponsored Vocational Advisory Committee meeting the evening of April 2 and initially refused to leave, according to the charge letters recently presented to the board by Obion County Director of Schools David Huss, who recommended Driver be dismissed.
Driver, who had been on suspension status since April 2, had requested Thursday night’s hearing as part of the due process afforded him. He was represented by Virginia A. McCoy, an attorney with the Tennessee Education Association, while school administration was represented by attorney John Miles of Union City.
The hearing was conducted in a manner much like court proceedings, which included swearing in all of the witnesses, opening statements and closing arguments from legal counsel, testimony from both sides in the matter and the transcribing of the proceedings by a court reporter.
Huss and Miles sat at a table on one side of the room and Driver and Ms. McCoy sat at a table on the other side, with a witness chair positioned between them to face a long table where six of the seven school board members — chairman Roger Williams, vice chairman Jimmy Smith, chair pro tem Brian Rainey, Glynn Giffin, David Lamb and Diane Sanderson — sat slightly elevated on a stage at the front of the room. Board member Susan Williams was absent.
Opening statements
In his opening statement, Miles outlined the accusations made by Miss Collier on April 2 after she returned from the FFA trip with several other students, chaperones and Driver, the FFA sponsor.
He said while on the trip, several members of the group had gone out to eat following a convention session one night, after which time Miss Collier was told that Driver needed to see her. She apparently asked a female chaperone to go with her to Driver’s condo room and initially thought she was going to be reprimanded for smoking. After the chaperone left and Miss Collier was alone with Driver, he allegedly instructed her to come into his bedroom and close the door. Miles claimed Driver engaged the teenager in a conversation that resulted in “a proposition.”
Miles said Miss Collier was nervous and pretended someone was texting her, explaining that she left the room scared. Upon returning, she related the alleged incident to her mother, who contacted school system administration, which in turn confronted Driver with the allegations. Miles said Driver admitted everything except for one reference to sex.
In her opening statement, Ms. McCoy said Driver contended he was not guilty of the two charges and wanted an opportunity to be heard. She said the board had the responsibility to determine whether the charges would warrant dismissal. She said the board had other options such as reinstatement, suspension, reprimand and even training.
She characterized Driver as “a very good ag teacher” with 24 years of service and as an educator who cares about his students and the choices they make. She said Driver overhead Miss Collier have a cell phone conversation and was concerned about a bad choice she might make, which led to his choosing to have a private conversation with her. She said there was no physical interaction or invitation, nor any indication Miss Collier was upset the night of the alleged incident.
Regarding the insubordination, Ms. McCoy said Driver was not told to stay off school property when he was suspended and he was interested in attending the committee meeting. He said he ultimately complied with Huss’ request to leave the meeting after Huss told Driver he was fired, but she said the director does not have the authority to fire a tenured teacher.
The testimony
Miss Collier was the first person Miles called to testify. She turned 18 in October 2008, during her senior year at South Fulton High School, and had been a student of Driver’s and an FFA member all four years of high school.
She said when she was told Driver needed to speak with her the night of the incident in Gatlinburg, she didn’t want to go alone and enlisted a female adult chaperone to go with her. She said Driver first spoke with the chaperone and the chaperone left, after which time Driver asked her to come into his room and close the door. According to the student’s testimony, Driver was wearing pajamas that consisted of sweatpants and a T-shirt and was already in bed. She said he asked her to shut the door and she did.
Miss Collier claimed Driver told her that he had been thinking about her and wanted to be with her. She said she was shocked and alleged Driver started talking about her school grades, his plans for redoing his house, his divorce, being with her and “all this weird stuff.”
“All of it was disturbing,” she said.
Miss Collier said her mother was the first adult she told about the incident, which led to a meeting with Huss and other administrators and her giving a written statement.
Among the administrators Miles called to testify were Huss, SFHS principal Adam Stephens, assistant director of schools James Faulkner and supervisor of instruction Nancy Hamilton. All of the administrators testified Driver didn’t deny any of the allegations except for one sexual reference.
Huss also testified Driver said Miss Collier wasn’t to blame and Mrs. Hamilton similarly testified that Driver said Miss Collier wasn’t at fault and he would take the blame for what had happened.
Stephens said Driver had indicated to him that Miss Collier was in his room and they were talking, adding that he wanted to “get things off his chest” and talk about his feelings for the teenager. Stephens said Driver told him he did not make any reference to sex but said he had some feelings for Miss Collier.
Ms. McCoy called three witnesses to testify, including the Rev. Mickey Hanks, who is Driver’s pastor; the Rev. Chip Davis, a local pastor who is Driver’s friend; and Driver himself. Despite Miles’ objection that Driver’s character was not relevant during the administrative hearing on the charges, both clergymen were allowed to testify. However, the board decided Hanks would not have to answer questions about whether Driver had acknowledged his feelings for Miss Collier, citing it as privileged information to a spiritual counselor.
Davis said Driver had shared with him about his feelings for Miss Collier. He said he relayed to Driver that he didn’t think it was good judgment on his part but he believed Driver when he said nothing immoral had occurred.
Driver was called by Ms. McCoy to testify at 9:30 p.m. Thursday, first answering questions about the April 2 meeting with Huss and the other administrators. He said Huss asked him if he told Miss Collier he loved her “and I said yes.” He said there were no allegations toward sex, though.
Driver said he told administrators from the beginning that he wanted to leave Miss Collier out of everything and he’d take responsibility, adding he didn’t want to make Miss Collier look bad. He said he knows her family well.
He said he didn’t remember much else about the meeting with administrators after he was suspended April 2, but he said Huss never specifically said he couldn’t attend the Vocational Advisory Committee meeting that night. He said it was open to the public and he felt he needed to be there as a responsibility to students and parents. He said after Huss told him his not leaving the meeting as requested was insubordination and indicated he was fired, he left.
In regard to the alleged incident in Gatlinburg, Driver said the group was having dinner at the restaurant when Miss Collier received a call from her mother and he overheard a comment about her boyfriend. He declined to say specifically what he overheard, though, and only said he was concerned and asked to speak with her later in his room. He said he had waited a good length of time and when she didn’t appear, he proceeded to shower and get ready for bed. He was already in bed reading when she arrived and said he was also in bed when he spoke with the adult chaperone.
Driver said he told Miss Collier he thinks a lot of her, “probably love her, if you want to know the truth.” He said he wasn’t talking about sex and he did not notice Miss Collier seeming upset or making excuses to leave.
Driver said he was seeking reinstatement from the board and doesn’t believe there would be a problem with his returning to teaching. He said he has “a clear conscience” and hasn’t tried to hide anything.
Miles questioned Driver about his feelings for Miss Collier. Driver said he began to see Miss Collier as “a young lady” at the end of 2008 and began to have trouble dealing with the situation, adding he had to “get it off my chest.” He said nothing sexual happened and he didn’t have any urges that night in Gatlinburg. He emphasized he did not come to the hearing to “downgrade” Miss Collier.
Responding to some questions from board members, Driver said he was at the hearing to defend himself and tell the truth. He said if he had to do it all over again, he would do the same and reiterated he would never hurt Miss Collier.
Closing arguments
Miles said the testimony was “shocking” coming from a teacher in position of authority, specifically noting that Driver testified he didn’t do anything wrong and would do the same if he had to do it over. He said it had nothing to do with Miss Collier but everything to do with Driver.
“It’s really scary,” he said.
Miles said the conduct was unbecoming of a professional and cannot be tolerated. He asked the school board to uphold administration’s charges and find dismissal warranted.
Ms. McCoy contended the insubordination charge had not been proven and said Driver eventually complied with Huss’ request to leave the April 2 committee meeting.
She said the more difficult issue was that of unprofessional conduct and said Driver had been completely honest. She said there was no immorality and said the only question may be whether the setting was the right place to have the conversation with the student. She said there was no scheme and nothing was staged that night.
The board’s decision
Williams told his fellow board members they had up to 10 days to render their decision but, even with the late hour, the consensus was to proceed Thursday night.
After reading the statutes, Williams said based on the testimony he heard, he doesn’t think the alleged conduct was appropriate and he feels it was unprofessional. He said if it had happened to his own daughter, he would say it was wrong and would be upset.
Smith said the board members are not only charged with caring for their own children but also with the children of Obion County. He said everyone on the board knows Driver and he has been impressed by the teacher’s care and concern, adding that it “breaks my heart” to have to deal with the situation.
Smith said he was concerned that Driver was telling the board that what they’d heard in the testimony was acceptable behavior. He said he doesn’t know how the board can condone such action.
Rainey said he was bothered that Driver indicated he would do no different if faced with the situation again. Lamb added that he has known Driver a long time but is concerned about his being an authority figure and admitting he’d do no different again.
The board opted to first vote on the unprofessional conduct charge, with Smith making the motion that the proof presented sustained the charge. It was seconded by Lamb and approved 6-0.
For the penalty portion, Williams made the motion to dismiss Driver and the motion was seconded by Ms. Sanderson. It, too, passed on a vote of 6-0.
“I think Bryant messed up,” Williams added.
On the insubordination charge, Smith again made the motion that the proof presented sustained the charge, drawing a second from Rainey. It was approved 6-0.
Smith said if that was the only charge, the board could look at counseling or suspension as options. He made the motion for a 30-day suspension without pay, subject to counseling and verification of completion, as the penalty for insubordination. It was also seconded by Rainey and approved 6-0.
The hearing dismissed about 10:45 p.m. Thursday.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by e-mail at
Published in The Messenger 6.26.09


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