SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. — Parents angry about the handling of the hiring and departurel of a physical education teacher who ended up being charged with inappropriate conduct toward a student packed on Monday afternoon the Sevier County Board of Education meeting.
Superintendent Jack Parton told the crowd at board headquarters that he accepted "full responsibility for what has happened."
He also said, "I've had many sleepless nights over this. We are going to do a better job, I will assure you."
Debra Cline, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, declined earlier Monday to comment about the hiring of Daniel A. Turner and referred questions to the school system's attorney.
Turner faces a court hearing May 14 in Sevier County on a felony charge. He was indicted in December.
Some parents have started a change.org petition drive over the case, and it's been a frequent topic on a Facebook group called Sevierville Speaks Out.
On Jan. 31, Parton suspended without pay Scott Hensley, principal of Pigeon Forge Middle School, and Pigeon Forge High School football coach Adrian Watson for their roles in the summer 2018 hiring of Turner.
Hensley served an immediate three-day suspension and Watson served a two-day suspension, records show. They also were given the chance to have reprimand letters wiped from their personnel files if they remain trouble-free over the next five years.
"What kind of message does that send to the children," asked Sevier County resident Cheryl Morgan. "What kind of leadership does that show from Mr. Parton and from the Board? It's just a slap on the wrist and it degrades our children and I feel sorry for the children that have to be in that school with that coach and that principal. They have no protection."
Parents at the meeting and on social media have demanded a stronger response, but attorney for Sevier County Schools Chris McCarty says no further disciplinary action will be taken against Hensley or Watson.
"Up until this recent discipline, those files showed two men with decades of spotless service to the students of Sevier County," McCarty said.
Records obtained by 10News show Hensley and Watson failed to properly inform the school system about concerns over Turner’s past.
In 2016, Campbell County schools suspended Turner, a teacher at LaFollette Elementary School, after fielding numerous complaints, records show.
He’d repeatedly let young girls rub his shoulders, legs and head, records show, despite being warned to stop it.
Documents show he’d repeatedly texted a substitute teacher, seeking to have sex with her on school grounds and sending her photos of his genitals. In one instance, she relayed how he pointed out a room at the LaFollette school where they could have sex.
She told school officials later she'd at first been willing to pursue a relationship with him but then changed her mind and told him to stop, records show.
Turner also appeared to have looked at sexual content on his school computer at school, according to records.
Turner also had a reputation for success in Campbell County as an assistant football coach. He touted it on his resume.
Campbell County put him on leave in 2016 and ultimately fired him in 2017. His dismissal followed an administrative hearing at which numerous school personnel spoke including the LaFollette substitute teacher.
After Campbell County terminated him, he applied to work as a PE teacher in Sevier County.
He lied about his dismissal, records show, attesting that he'd never been fired before.
Records show Coach Watson, who knew about Turner’s success in football, spoke with a Campbell County football coach about Turner.
He then relayed some of what he’d been told back to principal Hensley. But Watson left out key details about concerns over Turner’s past.
Sevier County hired Turner for a physical education post at Pigeon Forge Middle School and he helped Coach Adrian Watson with the Pigeon Forge High School team.
Within weeks of being hired, complaints arose about Turner.
In October a middle school student reported he’d tried to show her an inappropriate photo. When confronted that month, Turner quit.
He’s now facing indictment in Sevier County, charged with attempted soliciting – sexual exploitation of a minor. A Sevier County grand jury indicted him in December on the felony.
Records show Sevier County school administrators relied on Watson and Hensley to vet Turner and relay what they knew to school system administrators.
No one ever checked with Campbell County school administrators about Turner, records state. If they had, they’d have learned Campbell County worked for months to get rid of Turner – including holding hearings recorded with an administrative officer.
The public minutes of an August 2016 Campbell County education board meeting show Turner had been suspended for inappropriate conduct and was seeking an appeal.
On Jan. 23, 2019, Superintendent Parton reprimanded Hensley for failing to do a better job screening Turner’s hire.
In his letter, Parton blamed Campbell County for not alerting state officials about their problems with Turner. That would have helped put Sevier County on notice, he noted.
But Parton also wrote that Hensley had failed to do his due diligence.
"While you did ensure that Coach Watson spoke with someone in Campbell County Schools before Mr. Turner was hired, you did not ensure that Mr. Turner's prior supervisor/principal at LaFollette Elementary School was ever called for a reference," the letter states.
That was Hensley's responsibility, so the letter of reprimand was being put in his file, Parton wrote. It could be removed after the 2020/2021 school year if he remained trouble free, the superintendent wrote.
Community concern continued to grow over the case, however, as well as news coverage from the News Sentinel and others.
On Jan. 31, Parton took a tougher stance.
He learned that day that Watson hadn't been completely open about what the Campbell County coach had told him about Turner.
It was apparent to Parton, he wrote, that neither Hensley nor Watson had "followed the proper steps to 1) ensure these reference communications were documented so that (2) myself and other administrators could make a fully informed decision related to Mr. Turner's hiring during the summer of 2018."
Parton, however, remained upbeat. He said the men could have the reprimand letters removed from their files after five years if they had no further problems.
"In the end, I have the utmost confidence that you both will learn from this situation, and be better educators for it," Parton wrote.
He closed: "Thank you both for your service, and for your honest remorse in having made the mistakes outlined in this letter."