A parent frustrated with what he calls continued lack of transparency and failure to protect Huntsville School District students presented a petition with more than 120 signatures demanding the entire school board resign during the school board’s November meeting.

The meeting, held Monday on the St. Paul campus, included several special reports and approval of the plan to redistrict the school board zones.

The allegations and demands to resign stem from ongoing investigations into alleged ongoing sexual abuse against some players on the boys’ basketball team. Parent Benjamin Rightsell addressed the board, reminding them that he is one of many parents and concerned citizens who have addressed the board during recent meetings.

Rightsell said that since a meeting four months ago attended by many frustrated and angry parents, the students who committed the acts are still allowed in school and allowed to participate on the team. 

“Their rights were forfeited when they assaulted (fellow students),” Rightsell said.

He also said concerned parents feel several district employees should be terminated for failing to either report the abuse in a timely manner, appropriately supervise the students, or at least one employee who named students involved in an on-record media interview with The Madison County Record.

Rightsell said none of his children are involved in the situation but he felt he could not “continue to be unbiased,” hence his involvement.

“My children now go to a school where they can no longer feel safe,” he said. “When I go to bed tonight, I will know that I can go to sleep with my head held high. Can the school board say the same?”

While he has about 120 signatures on his petition, others in the community are also circulating similar petitions. He added in an interview after the meeting that he’s seen a large outpouring of frustration in the community including teachers and local business owners. Many have not signed the petition because they fear losing their job or being “blackballed” in the community, Rightsell said.

Rightsell is also the plaintiff in a court case against the district regarding its failure to comply with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) multiple times. The court heard arguments and testimony in the case on Nov. 8. Rather than rending his decision on the day of the hearing, Judge Doug Martin ordered that in lieu of closing arguments, attorneys for Rightsell and the district submit a brief by end of business Nov.15. Both briefs were filed on Monday. Superintendent Audra Kimball said after the board meeting that she had made separate phone calls to each board member to apprise them of what had happened during the Nov. 8 hearing.

It is customary for school board members in any district to not comment or interact with people who address the board and no board member responded directly to Rightsell. Board member Terry Forsyth did ask about a topic he brought up during the October meeting, which is to alter the board’s comment policy to allow less time but more freedom for people to address the board. Current policy requires that anyone wanting to address the board seek permission from Kimball to get on the agenda. They must submit their topic before the agenda is created and if approved, they have 10 minutes to speak.

The policy is standard with the Arkansas School Board Association, but it has not always been that way. At one point, boards often allowed people to sign up to speak 15 minutes before a meeting started and each person was given three minutes to speak. Forsyth had suggested something similar in October. Board President Danny Thomas said there hadn’t been time to research the matter due to ASBA training but that it was still something to discuss at future meetings.

Board member Kyle Taylor also brought up a topic that was being considered from previous meetings. He asked about touring the new activity center, which is under construct at 400 Cain St. The board had asked about touring and receiving more information about the project’s current financial status. A tour will likely be scheduled for immediately before the next school board meeting.

In other district-related news, the board:

• Heard a report from Huntsville Middle School Principal Matt Ferguson about the school’s excellent performance on standardized tests. More information is coming in a future story in The Madison County Record.

• Recognized Board Member Lenora Riedel for earning 25 hours of board member in-service from the state.

• Learned that there has been a slight uptick in Covid cases in the district. There are currently 13 positive cases and 98 in quarantine, largely from school-related exposure.

• Honored the St. Paul High School Student Council for being honored with the Youth of the Year Award from the Arkansas Prevention Network and the Madison County Health Coalition.

• Learned the new modular building is almost complete and district officials expect to move in to the four-classroom facility over Thanksgiving break.

• Heard that the new wireless system that has been on back order for several months has arrived and will be installed during Thanksgiving break. This should drastically improve connectivity on campus for staff and students.

• Approved personnel changes including:


Resignations


Certified:

• Janelle Riddle, St. Paul teacher is retiring

Classified:

• Colena Bonds, bus driver

• Colby Faulkner, athletic department custodian


Hires


Certified:

• Tracy Smith, Huntsville Middle School teacher (second semester)

• Amber Carnes, Huntsville Intermediate teacher

Classified:

• John David Ray Watkins, Huntsville High School custodian

• Joseph Walton, Bus driver

• Janice McCartney, secretary to student services and federal programs.