'I do not want my child in the r****d room,' Alleghany County School Board member allegedly said
Donnie Kern is in hot water for slur and for accusing school of fraud
ALLEGHANY Co., Va. – Emotions ran high in Alleghany County Monday night as the school board made it clear they want board member Donnie Kern out. The school board publicly criticized him for his involvement in a number of issues that involve accusing the school division of years of financial fraud and using a slur to describe special education classrooms, the details of which played out at Monday night's meeting.
Alleghany County's school board members are appointed by the board of supervisors and not elected by the public like in other divisions. The chairman of the board of supervisors made his unofficial ask of Kern to resign following the meeting because of how poorly teachers and administrative staff said he acts toward them, although the chairman offered no clear path to his removal if Kern doesn't resign on his own, creating a possibly even more complicated situation.
After more than 60 minutes of speaking behind the lectern, Alleghany County Schools Superintendent Eugene Kotulka dropped thousands of pages of documents on the table in front of him. The pages, totaling more than 225 man hours of staff time to compile, audit and document financial records and other things defending his operation.
"It took away from working directly with our kids one way or another, whether it's through doing reports up here for kids," Kotulka said.
Kern went behind the backs of school staff and fellow board members in 2018 to state police, the board of supervisors and other agencies when he claimed school leaders stole, lied and effectively cooked the books. Kern also accused teachers of not having the right qualifications and questioning their competency. Kotulka vigorously and at some points emotionally defended his operation from those claims, offering specific details and citing audit findings in response to 35-plus claims.
He said the school's auditors have no reason to believe anything Kern alleged is true. He also said the school board has spent $21,590 in attorney fees to have counsel present at meetings to answer Kern's questions and interact with him in other ways. School board chairman Randy Tucker said Kern is on the board for his personal gain only and the report Kern created was unequivocally not true.
"It was everything you could think of, if you just read his first paragraph that he had sent to them, in the first paragraph he said it probably is not so, so to speak, and it's not so he wanted to do this, he wants attention," Tucker said.
A new email released officially Monday night brought Tucker to tears and motivated two dozen special education professionals to speak at public comment before the board effectively defending their jobs in response to Kern's claims of them being underqualified and his usage of a slur.
In an email to the school board, a special education advocate shared what she described as a troubling exchange with Kern when she was discussing Kern's child's performance with him.
"He stated to me personally, 'I do not want my child in the r****d room,'" the woman wrote. The slur was used and 10 News has chosen to censor his language. The advocate said Kern also repeated it to another member of her staff before she told anyone.
"Why would you have to come in front of a school board to convince them that you care about what you do?" former Alleghany County special education teacher Robert Umstead asked."It's because you're afraid somebody's going to attack you and that's not fair."
Kern's seat was empty at Monday's meeting as his fellow board members passed a motion officially disavowing and scolding him. County Board of Supervisors Chairman Steve Bennett said his board put Kern there and his board needs to fix this, however, he wouldn't go further than stating Kern needs to resign. Bennett said he's unaware of any appointed school board member being removed from their position in the state's history which gives little precedent on what to do.
"We're going very slow, we've already talked with our attorneys, we knew the problem has been there we just don't know how to handle it and there are not very many examples to go by," Bennett said. "So hopefully if he's any kind of person at all, he'll take care of it himself; he needs to just resign."
In addition to the ethical problems, school leaders said Kern may have also broken the law. They're investigating whether or not Kern breached student privacy with his secret report and if he purposefully covered up conversations so they wouldn't be subject to open records laws. They said lawsuits may be next depending on what those investigations reveal.
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