I have thought long and hard about whether I should even address some of the threats made to me by certain DCS staff members, but I hope to set the record straight once and for all. I am going to say my peace and be done with this. Some of my friends and I have been targeted and threatened by certain school officials. One of my very best friends is a teacher and does not deserve to be punished for doing absolutely nothing wrong. If school officials want to continue to be dumb enough to search my FB page and see who works for them on my friend list, I say go ahead. Here is the deal though- the people with whom I REALLY talk and receive pertinent information from, are definitely not on my friend list!! The sources that I have reach far, deep and wide. These truly concerned and devoted individuals are not out to get anyone or to selfishly gain anything. They only want the bullying, the corruption and constant wrong-doing to end. They want to be able to teach and to put their skills to good use. We all want the children to be the first and last thoughts with regard to schools and education in Desoto County.
Yes, I had a child that attended Olive Branch Elementary School for K5 and part of the 1st grade. Abby has ADHD, OCD, food and environmental allergies and takes meds for the behavioral issues and allergy shots weekly for her allergies. She was a model student though, and I was a model parent. No one ever denied that. All of the teachers knew my daughter. She was one of the coveted students. All teachers wanted her in their class. She is a straight A student who loves helping other kids and the teachers. She is well behaved and never got in trouble at school. I donated money, time and supplies to the school, regularly. I made sure the teachers had what they needed. I served as “Room Mother”, earned my spot on the school’s “Wall of Fame”, read books with my child daily, did lunch duty for the teachers, went on all field trips and ate lunch with my child frequently. This school year, I was asked to take the place of the PTO Secretary, who stepped down for personal reasons. I gladly accepted. The PTO President, Fund Raising Chairperson, Treasurer and School Principal all agreed upon my taking over this position, and this is how it all started. My daughter was thrilled for me to be volunteering, even more than usual, at her school. I worked hard with the President and Treasurer to make sure the teachers got the supplies and equipment they needed for our kids to achieve the success they all deserved.
The teachers at OBES were so appreciative of everything that we were doing for the school. Many commented on how happy they were happy to have an involved PTO. They were not used to having a PTO that was so active. The Fund Raising Chairperson was at the school for multiple hours, every day. Many of the parents involved with the PTO volunteered many hours to the school. Several of the PTO officers were given keys to the school and to the PTO trailer, as we had many after-hours activities, including “Parent Nights Out” fundraisers on school property. We regularly met with the teachers to get their feedback, and then researched programs and educational implements based on the compilation of all our gathered information. We were determined to make OBES the very best it could be for students, teachers and parents alike.
In the short time my daughter attended OBES, she was sick twenty times and exhibited constant respiratory problems, regardless of treatment. Her sickness seemed to correlate with her time at school. She did not have any problems during breaks, holidays or over the summer. The final incident of sickness occured in October 2012. She came down with walking pneumonia (as stated by multiple staff members, there were approximately 6-8 other cases of pneumonia at OBES as well). Many teachers at the school had already told us how THEY knew or suspected that there was mold in the school. They knew that there were environmental hazards at OBES. MANY of them complained about the same things I had noticed. I NEVER made a big deal out of mold, but I was concerned about it as well as asbestos, lead-based paint, excessive dust and debris, pest control issues, flooded carpet (with water and sewage) that had never been replaced and more. It was important for me to discover the environmental culprit of my daughter’s illness for accurate diagnosis. My daughter’s Teacher’s Assistant came down with meningitis and had to leave school. My daughter’s teacher missed more than just a few days of school, due to illness. The 2nd Assistant in my child’s classroom quit after working for a short period of time. She had the same upper respiratory issues my daughter was having and experienced vomitting, while at school. The teacher ended up getting a 3rd assistant after we left. I was alarmed by the number of people having the same issues-or worse- than what my daughter was experiencing. I was also alarmed because past employees and parents confirmed they had the same issues too. Every affected person or student who left the school for either health issues or due to moving on to Chickasaw Elementary upon graduation from OBES, reported that symptoms and illnesses resolved upon leaving the OBES school environment. How can this be a coincidence?
The excessive amount of illnesses seemed to be “the norm” at OBES. One teacher complained of regular asthma issues and constant sickness. She, too, noticed an improvement in her health during school breaks. Another teacher lost her assistant to colon cancer. She got a 2nd “TA” that ended up getting double pneumonia in her first week or two at the school. These stories went on and on… The teachers seemed to be accepting of these issues as if “that is just the way it is”. Some seemed to think it was from being around young children, and others felt it was from the age of the school or environmental issues. At the time, I had no reason to believe one way or another, with regard to the situation. Because my daughter has always experienced environmental allergies, I was aware that there were a variety of possibilities where she was concerned.
When my daughter came down with walking pneumonia, her doctors and I became increasingly concerned. Her health was steadily declining. Her Allergist decided it would be wise for us to bring her home on homebound status for 8 weeks. He wanted to see if she would get better. Short of doing expensive environmental tests, this would be the simplest way to see if the school environment could be the source of her illnesses. If she got better, then we would have to assume that something at the school was causing her problems. If she continued to get sick, we would have to do more medical testing to try and figure out what could be causing these symptoms. Not thinking anything of it on Nov. 2, 2012, I submitted the doctor’s letter to the school, along with my request for homebound and 200+ pages of medical documentation to support my request. The letter I submitted never accused the school of any wrong-doing. I never threatened the school with a lawsuit, or, in any other way. I didn’t even ask for a homebound instructor to come to my house. I just wanted my daughter home, where she could do her work and then meet with her teacher, somewhere other than the school, to take her tests. Her teacher, along with another teacher, both stated that they were fine with this arrangement. I spoke with the Guidance Counselor (she said this was not the first time this had happened and for the same reasons), Assistant Principal (she assured me there would be no problem getting the homebound request approved and understood the age of the school could be a factor), Principal (who was not helpful and didn’t want to hear about anything other than mold) and our School Board Representative (who recommended that I call the Superintendent). I made calls and left messages for the homebound administrator at the county office, the Superintendent and- as instructed by the Superintendent’s Secretary- I left a message for the Head of Buildings and Maintenance. My calls were NEVER returned! I could not understand why they would not process my homebound request AND were instead, now corresponding with me via Keith Treadway, the School Board Attorney.
How does a parent that simply wants her child to follow doctor’s orders get this kind of treatment? Yes, I did notice environmental issues. I only looked further into these areas when met with such resistance from the school and all of the school officials along the way which was 2 WEEKS after I submitted all of the required documents to the school for the doctor’s homebound request. Teachers showed me some things, and I started documenting them. As a Realtor for the last decade, I am no stranger to environmental conditions. I evaluated over 5,000+ houses, over the last 6 years. These properties were bank owned properties in good to poor condition. In my line of work, you get sued, lose your license or have serious consequences if you fail to make a client aware of such conditions. I have Real Estate Certifications, Designations and years of school to give me the experience I needed to make these assessments. I also went to school for and worked in Real Estate Appraising for 2 years, completed coursework for Home Inspection and Mold Remediation and was respected by all of my co-workers for my knowledge. I would say I was far from lacking in experience.
I had my Environmental Engineer take a look at the pictures I had taken as well as the physical samples we took. He felt, as I did, that we needed to do full comprehensive testing and quickly. Since one or more of the classrooms had been flooded at least twice, with one of those times being by sewage, my EE was concerned about possible problems with e coli and mold. He said that kids that sit on this flooring, touching it and then put their hands in and around their mouth are at danger of getting e coli. Simply having the carpet cleaned, as the school had done, is not sufficient for removing all potential hazards or waste products from the carpet. By the time we had set a date to do the testing, the Principal had some man taking air samples at the school. Because testing is costly, we held off testing our samples or having our own environmental tests performed. We wanted to see what the school’s tests would reveal. The man taking samples in the school library appeared to be a county office maintenance man (as stated by one parent who seemed to know the man taking the samples). Later it was stated that G7 conducted the tests, but we never saw a G7 representative the day we were at the school (this does not mean there wasn’t one there). We were all suspicious because the whole event was carefully orchestrated on the one day that the Principal KNEW I would be at the school. This all occurred at 2:45pm on the day some of the PTO Officers had a meeting with the teachers and Administrators to establish what programs and implements they wanted to see us purchase for them with our fundraiser money.
Before things got bad, my daughter was out of school on a doctor’s note. Her doctor wrote a note excusing her absences due to illness while under his care (around Nov. 2, 2012). Abby’s illnesses originally began on her first day of Kindergarten the previous school year. She spiked a fever and had extreme vomiting her first day of Kindergarten. From there on out, she was sick at least twice each month and for at least a week at a time. She suffered from headaches, vomiting, stomach pains, sinus infections, bronchitis, thrush, yeast infections, extreme allergies, extreme behavior changes and pneumonia. She had been sick 5 times by the middle of October this past school year alone. Her last illness in October was pneumonia. Her Allergist wrote a note to excuse Abby from school. Her doctor did not put a return to school date on his note as instructed by the MSIS person at OBES. We did this to cover her until the homebound request could be processed. We heard nothing for a solid month. Abby went without taking tests, but she did complete all of the work being sent home to us by her teacher. I paid for IXL and RazKids so that Abby could have additional math practice and lessons at home as well as being able to keep up with her AR. I submitted to her teacher my log in information on both programs, so she would be able to keep up with that as well. I also paid for a writing program (through the same company that does RazKids), so that I could instruct Abby on composing stories and work on her writing (she was a 1st grade student). I went out of my way to stay on top of everything with her and with her teacher. I continued to do my work for the PTO even though Abby was not attending school. It was never our thought that she would not return to school. At the time, we truly believed this situation would be resolved, and she would be back at school after Christmas Break. She missed her friends and her teacher. We loved everyone at OBES, and we simply wanted to find out what could be causing her illnesses.
After a month of no help and being thrown over to Keith Treadway, we were advised to go before the school board and present our concerns about the school. Before that date arrived, we had a petition signed by parents and members of our community. Sunnie Barkley, Principal of OBES, stated that money for infrastructure is controlled by the county office. It was out of her hands where that was concerned. We were advised to contact the media so that we had fair representation SINCE THE MEDIA ATTENDS ALL SCHOOL BOARD MEETINGS! More and more people came to us with stories of issues in regards to illness and the school environment. I spoke at the school board meeting on Dec. 3, 2012. I was complimented by everyone in attendance at that meeting for a very “eloquent” speech and for such a dignified and fact based presentation of the issues. The Superintendent, School Board Members and other staff were impressed with all I had to say. At that meeting, there was no reason for me to feel that things were hostile or that the district would be hostile in their response to my presentation of the facts. Within 24 hours, I would see that I was right about how they felt about me but wrong about how they would respond.
I always carried myself with dignity and remained calm throughout. Somehow a situation that pertained to teachers, children and environmental conditions turned into a war about politics. The PTO President, whose husband was running for Mayor in Olive Branch, was accused of creating this controversy as a political stunt for her husband. UHHH…anyone that knows ANYTHING about politics knows that is CRAZY! You commit political suicide by doing something like that while campaigning. The PTO President and I had only known each other for a month or so by the time this went public. I was just a Mom fighting for my child when everyone else was failing her and failing her miserably. The PTO President, Treasurer and a TA were the ONLY ones to fight for my child and for the other children in the school. I appreciated their willingness to examine the evidence and stand up against others told to “rally around the school”. We were lied about, defamed, slandered and bullied by staff and the county office. Teachers and Administrators violated Board Policies, local Board Code of Ethics as well as the MS Educator Code of Ethics. To this day, the only one that has apologized to me is the Superintendent. Teachers bullied us on social media and on other internet sites. Certain ones claimed I was poisoning my daughter for media attention. Ruth Andry went online saying that she was going to or did SMASH one of our faces in the ground. It was relentless.
Principal Sunnie Barkley lied and covered up the facts because she was angry with us. She was filtering school money through the PTO account, and when we said NO that is illegal, she went behind our backs to other PTO Officers trying to get them to do it. School money is NEVER to be co-mingled with PTO funds UNLESS the school relinquishes the money to the PTO. In that case, it becomes the PTO’s money to do with as they please…NOT to be dictated by the Principal as to how it will be spent. The PTO is a completely separate entity. She was using PTO money, intended for the kids, to purchase water service for the teachers. Principal Barkley said the water did not taste good, and she refused to drink it. She was lying to us about programs we wanted to purchase for the teachers and students by claiming the teachers did NOT like the programs. She lied to teachers about the cost of the programs they wanted. She lied saying there was NO asbestos in OBES except for some cafeteria tiles and a storage building out back (that building is actually not a building but the PTO trailer that they also use for storage). I have a recording of the school meeting where she still denies asbestos in the school except for the 2 above mentioned places, yet she had a report by MDEQ and Pickering Firm that said YES there is asbestos in the school and in a lot more places than just the 2 places she mentioned. She was in federal violation of the EPA’s regulation regarding asbestos and the Asbestos Management Plan. They failed to have the proper abatement and asbestos certified officials at the school when they renovated it in the Summer of 2012. They most likely disbursed asbestos fibers and lead based paint into the air when they completed those renovations. There were so many lies and misrepresentations of the facts. The fact we challenged her or the district is why we were retaliated against.
In the end, the district spent $120,000+ on what they claim was not an issue to begin with. To me, that is a whole lot of money to spend on things that are not broken. MDEQ investigated at least twice in the beginning of this year. They found multiple violations, verified the asbestos concerns and verified that it was in the school. The school district failed to provide environmental testing results (as promised by the Superintendent on the news) proving there were no issues, submitted to me a report by CTech that stated there WAS mold growth in the air return as I had stated as well as excessive dust and debris in the air ducts as I had stated. They bullied us out of the school, and as a farewell gift to the school, OBES received a $1500 grant from Walmart that I wrote before being ousted. The PTO President and Treasurer were sent a letter stating that they needed to resign due to “conduct unbecoming” for falsely representing the PTO. It was stated that I was actually not officially, by the bylaws, the Secretary. The district refused to give my child homebound or put her on a 504 Plan. They tried to force her back to school to take tests against doctor’s orders and left us with no choice but to leave. The teachers at the school turned on us, did NOT advocate for our kids and left us alone. The school went as far as to have an Assistant Principal, from another school, show up to the OBES PTO meeting held sometime after the press conference in December. Her husband and she stated at the meeting we should all be forced to step down for “conduct unbecoming the PTO” because we falsely represented the PTO in this situation (this was all stated by the PTO Vice President and shown by a sign in sheet). No one there knew she was an Assistant Principal at a different school. No one there knew either that she TOO had the same problems with her child. Her child attended OBES and was constantly sick. She wanted her child out of the school and at the school she works for. Since she had just been promoted to Assistant Principal this past school year, she didn’t want to ruffle any feathers or make anyone mad. When my situation came up, she was told that if she was going to move her child, she needed to do it quickly. I am sure she was instructed to make us look bad and not creditable by the district since she was moving her child out, but that is just my opinion. Why else would an Administrator, who no longer has a child at the school, come to another school’s PTO meeting and say what they did? Why when none of us had ever had contact with her at any time and she had never been involved with this situation? She had voiced these same issues and concerns to DCS co-workers and to her child’s doctor.
Yes, my child goes to SBEC now. My daughter was emotionally hurt by this. Her anxiety was through the roof. She asked me then and still asks me, “Mama, do the teachers not care that the school was making me sick? Do they not want the school to be better? I thought they cared about me.” Out of the mouths of Babes, the truth is always spoken. For the record, since leaving the school, she has not been sick once (8 months now)! How do you explain that?! I am tired of DCS trying to claim that I am not honest about things or that you can’t believe everything written on our page. I challenge anyone from DCS to show me what is not the truth written on this page! If Mrs. Jennifer Weeks, George Loper, Sunnie Barkley or Superintendent Kuykendall want to sit down with me at any time, bring their facts and let me bring mine – I say let’s do it! I am not in this to make anyone look bad. I just want the wrong doing to end! I lost my faith in the system, but there are too many good people in the system to let some bad apples ruin it for everyone. I want more for our public school system. The relationships I have built with educators and administrators on the inside are so very important to me. I love these individuals so very much! I love these kids and want the best for them. Anyone that knows me, they know my heart. Those that get to know me, they know what I am about.
My husband and I bought into the hype about the schools. We were wrong. The school system is not the problem though! Lack of leadership from Administration, corruption, bullying, personal transgressions and politicians posing as school officials are the problems! I have uncovered so many things that will all come out in the end, it always does. When people spend more time trying to “game” the system instead of doing what they are supposed to be doing, the tangled web becomes harder and harder to untangle. This is not a gossip magazine. Don’t get me wrong, I have been overwhelmed with stories of all of the Administration’s personal extra curricular activities and transgressions, but I am not in this to talk about those things. That is between the individual, their family and God. Everyone makes mistakes, but it is what we learn from them and how we do differently in the future that matters. As long as those transgressions do not negatively impact our children, I have no reason to disclose them. I just want more for our kids and for our teachers. That’s it!
A Mother’s Love for her child is a very powerful thing! All I ever wanted was for Abby to go to school and not get sick, and the school to support us in trying to do what is best for her. That did not happen. The time has come to put an end to this reign of bullying and spending more time gaming the system than working for it. I love my child, and yes, she is gone from there now. BUT…I LOVE the DCS employees that I have built such an incredibly, amazing and strong bond with. They have become family to me. Through their eyes, I see everything. I cannot and will NOT walk away from them just because I have taken a different path for my child. I will not leave behind the children that we love so much! The public school system is supposed to be the foundation of a community. I wants ours to be solid as a rock. It may get ugly before it gets better, but it is the long term result I care about. Our kids deserve the best, and hopefully in the end, my daughter will see that teachers and educators do love her and aren’t afraid to advocate for her no matter the consequences. After all, that is what they are supposed to do.