TRM parents fearful?

Published 9:20 pm Tuesday, September 9, 2014

One Brewton parent is urging others to help her “break down this culture of fear” that some parents say prevents them from reporting incidents in the city school system to administrators.

Leza Nelson, a mother of two T.R. Miller graduates, is serving as the official spokesperson of a local group calling for administrative changes following the arrest of the former TRM band director on sexual abuse and ethics charges last month.

Jeffrey Lance Gainous, 32, remains in the Escambia County Detention Center. He has been charged with 12 offenses, including being a school employee having sexual contact with a student under 19; ethics violations since the school property was used during the alleged crimes; sexual abuse and unlawful imprisonment.

Nelson, who was accompanied at Monday’s meeting by a group of five parents, is spearheading a movement to effect change in the system.

In a previous interview with The Brewton Standard, Superintendent Lynn Smith said “there was absolutely no cover-up at T.R. Miller.” School officials first learned of the concerns less than a week before Gainous was arrested, Smith said, and almost immediately began working with law enforcement officers.

Smith said Tuesday he stands by that statement and urged students to take advantage the “Talk About it” system, an anonymous messaging system that works through email and text messaging to allow students to report incidents of concern.

“And that can include anything from bullying to whatever the case may be,” Smith said. “It’s not highly used, but we were able to prevent a suicide two years ago with the system.”

Still, parents aren’t satisfied, Nelson said.

“So many parents have contacted me because they’re not willing to come forward (with allegations) because they’re afraid of the repercussions since their child is a student there,” Nelson said. “If I had a child in the system still, I would feel the same way. I just want to have a civil discussion about how to improve Brewton and the city school system.”

Nelson addressed many questions “and those of other parents” to the Brewton City Council Monday. The council is responsible for appointing members of the city school board; however, they have no administrative control over the board or its practices.

“What we want to know is when an allegation is made, what is documented; what is not?” she said. “What (that person raising a concern) hear(s) is, ‘We’ll take care of it,’ and that’s the last we hear.

“I’ve heard that from so many parents, but then they say, ‘Don’t use my name,’ and that’s the problem,” she said. “What we all want to know is what do we do? Where can we go from here?

“I’ve urged people on Facebook to write down their ideas, what they want to see changed and to come together to see what we want to be changed in the system,” she said. “Now, I’m asking the public to do the same.

“We have to overcome this culture of fear, where people will speak up when they see something happening,” she said.

Mayor Yank Lovelace said he and other council members are limited in what they can do.

“We have no control over the board, but we will be happy to meet with any concerned parent to help our schools,” Lovelace said. “But if they have knowledge of illegal activity, that information needs to go to the right authorities. But we do what we can on an individual basis. Maybe we can get a committee together.”

Nelson said she plans to address the school board with these same concerns in the future.

“I can’t and will not do this on my own,” she said. “I know too many are afraid to put their name out there because of their children. It’s not my agenda to get someone’s job. I want change that will benefit the whole school system. “

Nelson asked parents and concerned citizens to contact her via private message on Facebook.