Kennedy counters' Thomas charge

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The school board member accused of racist remarks in a recent EEOC complaint has countered those allegations, claiming a recording of a school board meeting substantiates her position.

Dr. Patsey Thomas, supervisor of attendance and testing, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, stating, among other things, school board member Barbara Kennedy "has told me that she didn't want two blacks as supervisors in [the] Central Office."

In an e-mail to the Tribune, Kennedy wrote, "I can assure you that Dr. Thomas' allegation that I told her I didn't want two blacks as supervisors is simply not true."

Though it's not stated in the EEOC complaint, Kennedy says that Thomas misunderstood conversation during a special called school board meeting on May 17. Thomas could not be reached for confirmation on this point.

During that meeting there was a heated discussion of an organizational chart that schools director Roy Dukes was proposing. It involved creating two deputy director positions, with the leaders to be drawn from a pool of eight supervisors already at Central Office.

In the recording of the meeting, Kennedy can be heard paraphrasing a conversation she had with Dukes.

She says, "You told me, 'I can't put two African-Americans, two Caucasians, two men or two women in those positions.'"

Dukes corrects her immediately: "The statement was, 'We want diversity.' I did not say 'We can't.'"

In the recording, Dukes goes on to say, "We have to have diversity. We have to set the example of diversity. The important part is to get people who can serve."

Kennedy concedes that Dukes assured her "These positions would be diverse." However, she contends that he did say "I can't put two African-Americans ... in those positions." It was a statement to her during their conversation.

In her complaint, Thomas attributes such words to Kennedy as if Kennedy was speaking to Thomas.

"He was 'the one to state the need for diversity in the positions of deputy director, not me,'" Kennedy wrote in her e-mail.

Responses to three of the eight EEOC complaints, including Thomas', were to be prepared by school board attorney Sam Jackson, Kennedy wrote in her e-mail, reporting that they were to be completed Monday this week.

Attempts to reach Thomas at home by telephone and personally at work on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

The Marshall County Tribune continues to seek all perspectives on the chain of events.

In July, Dukes named Linda Williams-Lee and Lisa Ventura to the deputy director positions, but school board members voted down this version of the organizational chart by a 5-4 roll-call vote. They approved by a 6-3 vote a new chart that showed an assistant director's position. Eventually, Ken Lee, a math teacher at Cornersville High School, was chosen for the job. These actions became part of an EEOC complaint by Forrest principal Dr. Larry Miller, who claims discrimination against his sex, age and race. Miller wrote in his complaint, "I applied for the position of deputy director of schools. The director of schools chose two females with less experience and less education than me... I applied for the position of assistant director of schools. The director of schools selected a younger male, with no administrative experience."

Senior Staff Writer Clint Confehr contributed to this story.