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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

South Putnam School Board members walk out of meeting

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A crowd of concerned parents and students came to Monday night's meeting of the South Putnam School Board looking for answers -- but in the end, the board was not where those answers came from.

Attendees came to glean information surrounding the recent resignation of Harold Campbell, a high school social studies teacher and varsity baseball coach who was in his third year with the corporation.

Harold Campbell
At the end of the school board's agenda, superintendent Bruce Bernhardt opened the floor to the public, but reminded the crowd personnel issues could not be discussed outside executive session.

Kim Fidler, a representative with the Indiana State Teachers Association, stood to address the crowd. Along with her was Chad Hunter, who is also with ISTA. Along with Campbell, both Fidler and Hunter were present during the executive session that preceded the regular meeting.

In the middle of their discourse, Bernhardt attempted to stop Fidler, who kept speaking to the crowd. Board members called for an immediate adjournment and walked out of the meeting.

Fidler and Hunter remained to conduct a meeting and address the public's questions and concerns. In addition, Campbell addressed the crowd with a statement, which was also provided to the board.

Campbell said his Feb. 26 resignation was at the request of SPHS principal Kieth Puckett, who told Campbell serious allegations against him had come to light.

According to a document provided by Campbell, the situation started in mid-February when a colleague heard inappropriate images of students were on Campbell's cell phone. It was at that time Campbell approached Puckett and insisted the matter be looked into.

"I offered to give Mr. Puckett my phone for him to review," Campbell said in a written statement. "He assured me that I should not worry, stating that often people are accused of things that are not true."

Despite Puckett's assurances, Campbell alleges that instead of an investigation, "Mr. Puckett began a 10-day witch hunt."

On Feb. 26, Campbell was called to the principal's office and was presented with a one-page document listing accusations of misconduct (Campbell declined to go into specifics).

"The majority of the statements were completely false," wrote Campbell. "Those that were not completely false contained twisted around information based on partial truth."

Campbell said he was instructed by Puckett to provide written answers to all the statements, but was warned if the answers were not written precisely the way lawyers wanted them, Campbell would be out of a job and lose his benefits.

Because his wife and two young children are covered under his health insurance, Campbell took Puckett's warning as a powerful threat.

Next, the document alleges Puckett gave Campbell another option -- to hand in a signed letter of resignation, which would be dated Aug. 3. This was to allow Campbell to keep his benefits until the end of the school year.

Campbell said Puckett told him the letter would be kept sealed and not be submitted to the school board until the end of the year. No one other than Puckett, assistant principal Dan Bain and superintendent Bruce Bernhardt along with Campbell would know about the meeting, Campbell said.

At the end of the three-hour meeting with Puckett and Bain, Campbell wrote a one-sentence letter of resignation dated Aug. 3.

"In a state of confusion, intimidation, fear and not being provided union representation, I felt it was my only option for the sake of my family to sign the letter of resignation," Campbell wrote.

On March 13, Campbell was asked to sign a written evaluation, which was prepared on Feb. 26 by Puckett. Campbell refused, stating "I felt (Puckett) blackmailed me into signing a letter of resignation that I did not want to sign."

Following advice from the district union representative Hunter, Campbell signed the evaluation. The document states at 9:49 p.m. on March 16, Campbell received a 28-second phone call from Puckett stating he was not to return to the high school the next day.

"A decision had just been made at the school board meeting regarding my employment," the document states.

The following morning, Campbell met with Bernhardt outside the high school. Bernhardt backed Puckett's claim and added that Campbell was no longer allowed on school grounds.

A letter Campbell presented to school board members during an executive session prior to the regular meeting Monday said, "I am asking you to immediately rescind the resignation I was blackmailed into signing by Kieth Puckett."

Campbell has chosen to take his case to the ISTA, a voluntary union that addresses issues for teachers. ISTA and Campbell allege that the South Putnam School Corp.'s request for Campbell's resignation was a knee-jerk reaction and that no proper investigation into the allegations against Campbell was ever conducted.

See video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SlYg4vXON....