The Blount County Board of Education this week upheld a 10-day unpaid suspension for a sixth-grade teacher at Union Grove Middle School.

The tenured teacher, Julie Small, faces multiple allegations, including that she was late to work, left early, kept prescription drugs unsecured in her classroom and that food in her room led to an infestation of cockroaches.

Under school board policy, Small still may appeal the suspension to an impartial hearing officer, and that person’s decision may be appealed to the school board.

The board’s unanimous vote at its Thursday meeting indicated that if true, the charges warrant the 10-day suspension without pay.

Investigation

Small was suspended Nov. 19, 2018, pending an investigation into allegations against her and was reinstated on Jan. 22, 2019. She has been paid for all but 10 days of that period.

In a letter to the board, Director Rob Britt said the investigation did not support allegations of incompetence and insubordination against Small but there was “ample evidence” of neglect of duty.

The evidence Britt cites included:

• Video footage of Small arriving late for work nine times and leaving the building early 11 times between Sept. 12 and Nov. 9, 2018.

• A teaching assistant finding an anti-seizure prescription medication in Small’s desk. Small’s written response during the investigation admitted having Gabapentin in her desk but said she locks the drawer and students are never left alone in the room.

• Video showing students didn’t leave her classroom until about 49 seconds after the fire alarm sounded for a drill on Oct. 10, 2018. Small responded that when students lined up they were talking, she told them to be silent, and when she opened the classroom door they waited for another class to pass.

• Staff reports of a “state of uncleanliness” in the classroom. Small denied the accusation, but the head custodian reported that her classroom has to be mopped every night and he had to request additional pest treatment because of a roach infestation in October 2018.

• Reports of unauthorized access to student grades. An instructional assistant said Small allowed a student to enter other students’ grades in a grade book, and a teacher reported at the end of the last school year that grades were projected on a board in Small’s classroom where other students could see them.

As a result of the investigation, Small is required to participate in an improvement plan through the 2019-20 school year.

She has been employed by the district since 2006, starting at William Blount Middle School.

Small’s personnel record does not document who initially made the allegations against her that led to the suspension and investigation, and both Britt and David Murrell, assistant director of operations, declined to comment on the pending personnel matter.

Small did not respond to attempts to reach her for comment.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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