Full Investigation
Lenoir City school board member Bobby Johnson answers a question from Hannah Smith during a board meeting Wednesday. At left is school board Chairwoman Rosemary Quillen. (MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL)

Lenoir City school board member Bobby Johnson answers a question from Hannah Smith during a board meeting Wednesday. At left is school board Chairwoman Rosemary Quillen. (MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL)

Lenoir City school board to investigate yearbook flap

By Hugh G. Willett

LENOIR CITY The Lenoir City School Board on Wednesday promised parents and residents that a full investigation will be conducted into the publication in the high school year book of an article about the experiences of a gay student.

Board Chairwoman Rosemary Quillen said the board is in the process of fully and fairly investigating all of the facts and decisions that led to the controversy.

"Please know that all of us are working toward a permanent solution so that situations like this never happen again," she said.

The board heard from a number of parents, former students and members of the community, some in support of the article and others against it.

Schools Superintendant Wayne Miller said he had received a formal complaint from parent Charlene Waggoner regarding the content selection and supervision of the yearbook.

Waggoner said her complaint is with the staff member who should have been overseeing the production and editing of the yearbook. She described the publication of the article as a "purposeful and insubordinate act."

Others who spoke against the article also placed the blame on journalism teacher James Yoakley, who supervises the school newspaper and yearbook.

"I believe he intentionally knew what was going to happen," said parent Kim Jaggers.

Parent Bobby Hamilton agreed that the staff advisers should be held accountable.

"It all comes back to leadership," he said.

Yoakley, who has said that he believes in allowing the students to direct the production of the yearbook, could not be reached for comment.

Pastor Phil Gower of Friendsville said he thought the article was inappropriate for publication in a school year book, but stressed that his disagreement did not indicate hatred of any person or group.

"Just because you don't like something that someone does, doesn't mean that you hate them," he said.

Several people spoke in support of Yoakley and the decision to publish the article, including Hannah Smith, a 2006 graduate of Lenoir City High.

"It's not about sexuality, it's about being different," she said.

Smith said she has a son with special needs who may attend the high school someday and she doesn't want him to feel bad about being unique.

"He shouldn't have to be scared for being different," she said.

Jim Patton defended the year book staff and said that the year book should be by students for students. Parents need to understand that their children are going to meet a diverse spectrum of people throughout their life.

"It's your job to teach your children about other people's differences," he said.

Eric Glandon, a former LCHS student, called for restraint on both sides of the issue and asked parents to trust the school board.

"They're good people and they'll make the right decision," he said.

A number of parents said they were concerned about rumors that gay student Zac Mitchell would not be allowed to walk in the graduation ceremony or that some form of protest would disrupt the proceedings.

"He'll walk with his class. He knows he's welcome," Miller said.

Nobody is going to disrupt the graduation, Miller said.

"They've worked 12 years for this. Shame on anyone who forgets that," he said.

Lenoir City High Principal Steve Millsaps said he was extremely proud of the way the students in his school have dealt with the recent controversy. He said he doesn't expect any problems at graduation.

Also during Wednesday's meeting, Millsaps confirmed that substitute Spanish teacher Karmen Stephenson was dismissed last week for inappropriate comments made in the signing of student yearbooks.

Also, in-school suspension teacher Corey Benjamin, who also coached basketball, resigned last week over inappropriate text messages to students.

At Lenoir City Middle School, social studies teacher and assistant baseball coach Donald Balcom also choose to resign after a fight between two students following a baseball game.