Six Rehobeth Elementary School third-grade teachers and their attorney are seeking a speedy resolution in an investigation of an alleged hostile work environment involving another third-grade teacher and two Houston County Board of Education administrators.
According to information released by attorney John C. White who is representing the teachers for the Alabama Education Association, several formal grievances against HCBOE personnel director Rhonda Lassiter and elementary curriculum supervisor Denise Kohen have been filed with documents detailing instances of a fellow teacher’s purported ongoing menacing behavior, including bullying and harassment.
The Alabama Education Association filed a complaint on behalf of the teachers, against Lassiter and Kohen for letting their perceived bias affect how they handled the investigation and its outcome.
“Currently, my clients want the offending teacher to be transferred or some personnel action to be removed from the school,” White said. “I intend to pursue any action to dispel this hostile work environment.”
His clients include Erin Merrill, Kristin Freeman, Rachel Dunning, Pamela Bishop, Shawndrea Gethers, and a sixth unnamed teacher who is not an AEA member.
The teacher accused of creating the hostile work environment is also being represented by an AEA attorney who could not be reached on Monday. Since the teacher’s name has not been identified by school officials, the Eagle is not releasing a name at this time.
The investigation started before school began in August 2019. Teachers said they witnessed the accused teacher swearing at another teacher and backing her into a wall while children were present.
Rehobeth Elementary School Principal Greg Yance recommended the teacher receive administrative leave, but Houston County Superintendent David Sewell denied his recommendation. Instead, he launched an investigation and directed Lassiter and Kohen to conduct interviews of all involved.
During the investigation, the teachers say they were denied representation and the one-on-one interviews were secretly recorded by Lassiter. Continued requests to be given access to the recordings as part of the investigation have been denied, White said in a press release about the case.
In October, Sewell launched another investigation into reports of bias and misconduct on the parts of Lassiter and Kohen and the teachers were interviewed again.
According to White, the teachers expressed to Sewell how their workplace had “become one of constant fear and dread due to the colleague’s contempt and hostility.”
In an audio recording of a Dec. 5 meeting with Sewell, Rehobeth Elementary Assistant Principal Jami Whillock said she expected the interviews to take place in her presence and Lassiter told her they preferred to meet with the teachers on their own.
“This is an ongoing investigation,” Sewell said Monday. “Certain aspects of HIPPA (laws) and FERPA (laws) are involved. I can’t speak about the investigation, but AEA is handling both sides. They have provided attorneys to both sides.”
Sewell said he is still leading the investigation.
“I hate that this has happened and I hope there will be resolution soon,” he said.
Yance and Sewell confirmed that all teachers are still working within the same capacities at Rehobeth Elementary School.
In White’s release, he states that the teachers have expressed frustration over Sewell’s inaction over the course of two official investigations and several formal grievances.