KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Several parents spoke during the public forum of the Knox County Schools Board of Education meeting Thursday, expressing concern over what they call a lack of communication from the administration.
The meeting comes after an incident at Hardin Valley Academy where a contracted employee has been accused of intentionally opening and leaving open a gas valve in the school. It was announced Wednesday that the school’s principal Dr. Rob Speas would be placed on paid administrative leave.
Katie Prothro is the parent of a freshman at Hardin Valley, and said first heard about the gas leak from another parent, and then her daughter.
“I got zero notifications, don’t know where that email went, nothing ‘just come get me from school,'” Prothro said.
She questions why they weren’t informed sooner, and why the students remained in the school for the time they did.
“The more I started really thinking about the more I thought, ‘I really trusted the school to make great decisions on this and where’s the breakdown?’ Why were our kids allowed to sit in that? I don’t have answers for that. I think the district is now starting to look for answers as to what happened that day and I’m grateful for that,” she said.
Superintendent Jon Rysewyk announced Monday that Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Hemmelgarn is leading an investigation into the incident, but some parents like Jennifer Pettyjohn question if this is enough.
“We’ve asked for a third-party investigation, not an internal investigation, and we’ve asked that those findings be communicated to the public,” Pettyjohn said. “We learned tonight that the school didn’t call the fire department, it was a parent. Those are very concerning points.”
Superintendent Rysewyk says he is confident in the school district’s investigation.
“Ms. Hemmelgarn has been someone who looked into a lot of those kind of things for employee stuff for us previously in the job she had here, she’s also an attorney and she has a lot of background, and I have full confidence in her ability to look into this and do a formal review,” he said.”
Michael Reynolds was announced as the interim principal while Dr. Rob Speas is on paid administrative leave. Reynolds’ placement was announced to parents in an email on April 5. Employees of Hardin Valley Academy also spoke at the meeting, expressing disappointment with how they were informed of that change.