Bedford County School Board votes to reassign deputy superintendent to instructional coach

Published: Jun. 22, 2018 at 1:11 AM EDT
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After a closed session meeting Thursday night, the Bedford County School Board voted 4-3 to reassign Deputy Superintendent Cherie Whitehurst to the position of instructional coach.

The board also voted 5-2 that there were no violations of the sexual harassment policy of Bedford County Public Schools.

According to Dr. Whitehurst's attorney, Hunter Byrnes, the vote was based on a complaint that was filed by Dr. Whitehurst against Dr. Schuch, Superintendent of Bedford County Public Schools, for employment discrimination based on her sex.

"I believe that it was an injustice to Dr. Whitehurst as well as the citizens of Bedford County," said Byrnes "But more specifically to all women who have had to endure sexual discrimination in the workplace....You would think that organizations, school boards, public schools would be more aware of the vital voice that women have."

When asked for comment, Bedford County Public Schools handed WDBJ Whitehurst's personnel report showing the the reassignment and said they could not comment further at this time.

The special called meeting started at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and wrapped up just before midnight. It was called to discuss personnel appointments, however before the closed session began the board heard comments from the public.

The room was at capacity as a handful of people listened in from outside the door. About 15 people spoke during the public hearing in support of Dr. Whitehurst- including teachers, students and past administrators.

"She has been a very loyal and dedicated supporter to the learners of Bedford County for all of these years," said parent Cynthia Gunnoe during the public hearing. "Why are we treating her this way as she nears the end of her service to Bedford County Public Schools?"

Harold Jones worked in Bedford County Public Schools for 35 years as a teacher, coach, administrator and eventually Director of Transportation. Jones said it was important to show support for Whitehurst.

"There comes a time in everyone's life, when you must take a stand for what is right," said Jones. "I believe this is one of those times."

Multiple people asked the school board to listen to their pleas before heading into the closed session meeting, expressing frustration over some school board members not listening in the past.

"You cannot allow this to happen to a person of value in education like she is," said Margie Jones. "That's hard to find."

Whitehurst has served as an assistant principal at Jefferson Forest High School and Staunton River Middle School. Whitehurst was also principal of Staunton River High School from 2000 to 2006 and principal of Liberty High School, her alma mater, from 2006-2009, according to the BCPS website.

In 2009, Whitehurst made the move to assistant superintendent. She was named deputy superintendent in 2014.

"If you haven't figured it out yet, you all have touched a nerve," said John Messier during the public hearing. "And the nerve is that you're dealing right now with Bedford education royalty."

According to Byrnes, Dr. Whitehurst asked the school board why her position was being changed and the school board would not answer.

The decision to reassign Whitehurst comes after a nearly month long fight, led by community members, speaking out against any change in position.

Students and teachers initially heard on the last day of school that Whitehurst would be moved to Principal of Liberty High School, leaving people asking what position Dr. Kathy Dills, current principal, would hold.

Bedford County Public Schools confirmed Thursday night that no changes would be made to Dr. Dills' position.

According to Byrnes, he and Whitehurst do not have a contract yet for the instructional coach position that the board has accepted as the recommendation.

"There is a clear legal path that we can go down to. Dr. Whitehurst and her very kind husband and I, I'm sure will have some discussions about the length of time to go through that process," said Byrnes. "But I'm not going to affirmatively make any comments on that right now."