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In Resignation, Covington Teacher Addresses Board of Education

A teacher who recently resigned her position at Covington Independent Public Schools voiced a litany of concerns at the Board of Education meeting on Thursday.

Karen Zaino, who taught English at Holmes High School, was supported by other teachers who attended the meeting.

Zaino said that the main reason she stepped down after seven years was a series of allegations of sexual misconduct or racist remarks against three other teachers. She suggested that the school district had not done enough to address those situations.

In one case, Zaino cited a teacher who was disciplined - but retained as an employee - after the revelation of inappropriate electronic communications with a student in which that teacher suggested to move the conversation to a social media app that would better protect their correspondence. Zaino called the continued employment of that staff member as "a subtle pardon of sexual misconduct (that) sends an unacceptable message to students, staff members, and families in our district."

Zaino described the anguish that the student suffered, missing two weeks of school and having her grades drop.

Board attorney Claire Parsons said board members could not comment or take any action on Zaino's concerns because the items were not on the agenda, and because the board does not have the authority in personnel matters.

Superintendent Alvin Garrison addressed the concerns later.

"We reported the incidents to the Covington Police, and the state Cabinet," said Garrison. "We did an internal investigation, and the police and the state investigated."

There were other items Zaino brought up in her 15-minutes at the podium.

Zaino said teacher turnover at Holmes had reached 17 percent, based on her recollection of who was employed in between 2014-15 and now.

Garrison said the district is aware of some teacher turnover but was unsure of what percentage would be acceptable or unusual. He suggested that Zaino's calculations were high.

Zaino also said that Holmes lost 42 percent of its students in the past 2018 school year, up from 22 percent in 2015.

Garrison said that there are a variety of reasons that students start at a school and do not finish. One reason, he said, is the district's high transient population rate.

Zaino also presented comments from other teachers who wished to remain anonymous, with concerns about lack of communication, lack of support from administrators, and a lack of consistent discipline for students. Teachers, she said, also believed that they were criticized in front of students, and that they cannot discipline students - and students know that, and exploit it.

Garrison said that the end of the 2017 school year, 46 percent of teachers responded in a survey that the school administration supports them in regards to discipline.

56-percent of the faculty, Garrison said, said that policy related to student discupline was understood. 75-percent said that students understood the expectations of their conduct, 86-percent believe the faculty work in a safe environment, and 88-percent responded that their school was a good place to work and learn.

Zaino finished by saying that Covington is a solutions-oriented school district - and then offered her own solutions for the district to consider.

Garrison said the resigned teacher had presented the same information to the site-based decision-making council at Holmes. He said he would read her recommendations and that he wishes Zaino well in the future.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor

Photo: Karen Zaino addresses the Covington Board of Education (RCN)