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North Lawrence School Board Places Dennis Martin On Administrative Leave
Updated September 11, 2015 7:34 AM | Filed under: Education
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(BEDFORD) - By a vote of 5-2, the North Lawrence School Board on Thursday night placed Bedford North Lawrence High School Teacher Dennis Martin on paid administrative leave pending an independent investigation into allegations made by a student or multiple students that Martin had patted students on the back and another girl accused him of "trying to feel her bra strap."

Martin had submitted his letter of resignation after being called to a meeting with NLCS Superintendent Gary Conner and BNL principals Dan Dyke and Sarah Lee on August 28.

Martin claims they gave him only three options: termination, administrative leave or resignation.

Martin submitted his resignation, but later he withdrew that by writing a letter to both school and school board officials saying that he didn't want to resign and noting that he was pressured to do so.

However, Conner says Martin was told to "think about it" before submitting his resignation.

Martin, who taught social studies and has been at part of the BNL faculty for more than 22 years, wrote social networking posts related to the matter and they were widely circulated. That lead to another person posting on www.change.org, asking supporters of Martin to sign a petition and attend the school board meeting to show public support for the teacher.

More than 2,000 people signed the petition. Many of those who spoke in support of Martin were former students.

School Board Attorney Greg Pittman says the school corporation will not be required to follow the recommendation of the investigator or on whether Martin will be allowed to keep his job.

Below is a statement released by Dennis Martin addressing the alleged incident or incidents:

The letter

September 8, 2015

Addressed to: Mr. Gary Conner, Superintendent, North Lawrence Community Schools; Mr. Larry Arnold, President, NLCS School Board of Trustees; Ms. Kirsten Collier, Vice President, NLCS School Board of Trustees; Mr. Tracy Bailey, Secretary, NLCS School Board of Trustees; Ms. Beth Ritter, Member, NLCS School Board of Trustees; Mr. Scott Gillespie, Member, NLCS School Board of Trustees; Mr. Gary Holmes, Member, NLCS School Board of Trustees; Mr. Donnie Branham, Member, NLCS School Board of Trustees

Dear Mr. Conner & School Board members,

On Friday, August 28, 2015, I was informed by my building principal that allegations had been made against me by a student, or students. I was requested to leave Bedford North Lawrence High School for the day and did so. Stunned, heartbroken, and without any knowledge what the allegations were against me.

I sat stunned, frightened, shocked, and bewildered that day and the following two days. I received a phone call on Sunday, August 30 from my building principal informing me the Superintendent desired to meet with me on Monday, August 31 at 1:00 p.m. in the administration building.

I arrived at the meeting at 12:45 p.m. and was met by Mr. Conner, Mr. Dan Dyke, Ms. Sarah Lee, and (name deleted). We entered the conference room at approximately 12:55. At this point, Mr. Conner informed the allegations were:

a.) I had patted, or "massaged" students back. (It was insinuated that I was "trying to feel her bra strap") I denied this accusation vehemently. I have never "tried to feel a bra strap". The allegation was insulting to my character and integrity. I do occasionally pat students on the back as they sit in their desks, but in no way is this ever intended in any way other than a friendly gesture of support and reassurance. The thought of someone misinterpreting this friendly gesture sickened me.

b.) I was informed students were uncomfortable with a short series of 3 childbirth videos I show in my AP Psychology class. This is an elective college-level course. The short videos are approximately 12-20 seconds in length. They are even in a very washed out, faded format, to eliminate blood being shown. I have shown these videos for well over 10 years in my class as part of my curriculum. This portion of the curriculum is for Developmental Psychology and is covered in Indiana Standard 4.1. My goal in showing the videos is purely academic in nature. Prior to the videos, our class has been looking at the pre-natal development of the human brain in utero. The videos are a clear delineation point where the baby's brain is now developing on its own, thus it will encounter new issues and dangers. This is the only reason the videos are shown. I tell the students very clearly and up-front that if they are not comfortable watching the videos, they may step out into the hallway. Rarely has a student stepped out. I take this as an academic victory as I feel they are now "hooked" on the topic of brain development.

c.) The next allegation is that I use emoji's during communication with my students, in particular the heart emoji. My posts on all social media are open, they are not hidden behind a privacy wall. The vast majority of my posts are noting more than a good luck, or a reminder of some sort. I do use emoji's when posting, including the heart, smiley, football, soccer ball, graduation cap, books, and various weather images. If I have ever used a heart emoji referring to a student, it is because I do love my students. Of course, in a professional teacher-student relationship. Nothing more. Nothing less.

d.) It was repeatedly stated to me that student(s) felt I was "creepy" and uncomfortable around me. I was asked repeatedly how this made me feel. Of course, when I heard this, I was devastated. My goal everyday in my classroom is to make my students feel safe, welcomed, respected, and cared for. If a student found me "creepy", I certainly never felt that from the feedback I received on a daily basis from the thousands of students I've now taught through the years.

e.) It was stated I "told a student she looked nice." I honestly do not remember saying this a specific time, as I tend to complement my students on a regular basis, both male and female. In particular, when a specific athletic team decides to "dress up" for school that day. I try to pay a complement to each and every one I see in a suit, dress shirt & tie, or dress. Never were any comments said in a salacious or demeaning manner. They are spoken out loud, and accompanied with a "good luck, Lady Stars!", or "good luck boys' basketball!

f.) It was insinuated that I "had asked for student's personal phone numbers." I do not ask for student's personal phone numbers. The only time I have ever used a student phone number is when I would alert my teacher assistants from 4 years ago about weather delays or cancellations upon their request to do so. This was in a group message to four students.

g.) The next allegation made by Mr. Conner is that "I had been acting this way for years". The tone of this accusation was particularly hurtful. In my 22 years of education, I have never once put a child's welfare in danger, or in a compromising position. They are my responsibility, and I act accordingly each and every day. As a former coach and 22=year veteran teacher, I am fully aware of the "in loco parentis" statute. I live by it daily in my classroom.

h.) Mr. Conner repeatedly stated a parent was "angry, very, very angry." I told him I understand, as protecting my son or daughter would be the first priority for any parent. He repeatedly asked me how this made me feel. Again, I stated it made me feel utterly heartbroken and terrible. If there was a misunderstanding, I would be glad to speak with the parent, either in private or in public with school officials present.

i.) Mr. Conner repeatedly listed off the "allegations" as I sat in the conference room. I kept repeating how remorseful I am, and that obviously the student misunderstood my intent. Never would I do anything to jeopardize the trust that develops between teacher and student. It is sacred to me. He asked, "what would the board say if I brought them this information?" I stated repeatedly that if I could explain the misunderstanding, the board would surely understand it was something never done with malice or any salacious intent. I further explained that my 22 years of teaching should be a solid refection of my character, dignity, and integrity.

When the allegations were finished, I sat in my chair, stunned, shocked, and heartbroken. Surely there was a mistake somewhere, I thought. I offered solutions to keep my position. I offered to work on a supervised contract basis, where the shoulder taping would cease 100%. I offered to change positions. I offered to change buildings. I offered to teach online courses. All to no avail. Had the "allegations" against me cost me my profession? Were there no options or alternatives? Could I at least explain my action(s) were harmless and just misunderstood, or taken completely out of context?

Mr. Conner repeatedly spoke the words, "I think a lot of you" to me. I appreciated his kind words. However, he stated the students had lost their faith and trust in me. Returning to the classroom would be very difficult, or impossible. As I sat listening to those words, watching my life come unraveled before my eyes, I was in shock. He saw no remediation for this. He saw no alternative. He saw only three options available to me.

Option number one was termination. He said this was not a good option, as this will be on my employment record and will follow me to my next position.

Option two was administrative leave. He said this was also not a good option, as this is required to go before the school board and will be made public record. He stated that "I didn't need to damage my reputation" this way. I felt my reputation had already been damaged, but I did not know the ramifications of what administrative leave entails. It was at this point, Mr. Conner stated, "we all went through the (name deleted) thing & don't want to see that again." With this comparison, I was angered and stunned. I had done absolutely nothing remotely close to that.

Option three was to resign. I stepped out of the office for a few moments to speak with the union representative (name deleted). I am not allowed to join the union, as my position of department chair is classified as administrative. I do not begrudge (name deleted) in this process. She offered advice and was helpful, even though I am not a union member. Her advice was to resign, and move on. I again, could not believe what was happening to me.

I did not want to resign. I felt as though I was pressured and coerced without any recourse or due process. My health has been an issue recently, but it is getting better each day. Mr. Conner mentioned that my health should be a concern and that I could receive partial retirement funds.

On (name deleted)'s advice and pressure received in the meeting, I wrote out my resignation. I stated that I will resign from NLCS effective September 11, 2015. This was not my choice.

I am asking you to rescind, cancel, or reject my letter of resignation. I want to teach. I want to teach at Bedford North Lawrence High School. I miss my students. I miss my colleagues.

Throughout this process, my heart and soul has been soothed by the hundreds and hundreds of messages, posts, tweets, emails, and phone calls I have received. It truly is a blessing in a very dark time for me and my family. Just knowing that a teacher can affect so many lives is truly amazing. I feel they have impacted mine in just the same manner, and for that I will forever be grateful. From the beginning of this ordeal, I have been forthright, honest, and 100% completely open and transparent. When my integrity is attacked, I respond, just as anyone would. I have kept family, friends, colleagues, and others updated on my ordeal. Why? Because I have nothing to hide. I am a gregarious, happy, fun-loving, and social person. I hoped those personality traits would be a positive influence on the lives of young adults going through a difficult transition in their lives. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I am asking humbly for my position back.

I am asking humbly for your forgiveness for any negative light this has cast upon our school.

I am asking humbly to see this incident for what it truly is, a misunderstanding of intent.

I am asking humbly for my students to forgive me if I ever offended them in any way.

I am asking humbly to cancel my letter of resignation.

I want to teach. Because it's who I am.

Thank you for your consideration regarding this matter.

Sincerely,
Dennis Martin



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