ENID, Okla. — A hearing to determine the future of former campus police chief Mike Dods’ employment with Enid Public Schools is scheduled at noon Nov. 14.
EPS school board members will take a vote to either fully reinstate Dods as campus police chief or end his employment with the district.
The public termination hearing will be held in the boardroom of the Administrative Services Center, 500 S. Independence.
Dods’ job is on the line due to alleged retaliation by EPS administration for disobeying directions to “hide acts of violent student conduct and student threats on multiple occasions,” according to Oklahoma Education Association, a teacher’s union supporting Dods.
Dods reported such violent incidents to Garfield County District Attorney’s Office despite threats made to his livelihood, the OEA said. Administrators eventually demoted Dods and issued him a termination letter in late October.
“Statutorily, a school district is prohibited from retaliating against an employee that reports student violence to law enforcement authorities. There’s a specific statute that addresses exactly this scenario, and they’re violating it,” Heath Merchen, an OEA attorney representing Dods said.
If Dods is not reinstated at the hearing, Merchen said litigation against the district will follow, on the grounds of the alleged violations.
The Oklahoma Education Association notice, sent to EPS Wednesday, alleges EPS administrators "directed Officer Dods to hide acts of violent student conduct and student threats on multiple occasions."
As Nov. 14 approaches, the deck against Dods is stacking, Merchen said.
“We’re concerned because things are looking like they might not be an objective approach to this case,” he said.
Dods’ hearing may be public, but Merchen said the district is curbing public involvement by selecting a noon weekday start time.
“I’ve been representing teachers in Oklahoma for the last 20 years. This is the first time I’ve ever had a school board set a termination hearing during the workday,” Merchen said. “Every single hearing I’ve done has been set after hours to ensure that all witnesses can participate, so it doesn’t look biased against the employee ... but what’s going on in Enid is very different from what we’ve seen in other places, across the board.”
Enid residents who would otherwise be able to show their support in person will be too busy earning a paycheck to attend, he said. Also, there’s no guarantee that employee witnesses backing Dods’ claims will be released from work by EPS, either.
“I’ve requested to move it to the evening because it looks to be a clear tactic to avoid public participation and to limit the number of witnesses that could appear,” Merchen said.
EPS responded to Merchen’s request Tuesday. They declined to change the time, he said.
Enid Public Schools said the hearing was scheduled at the discretion of the school board.
“The Enid Board of Education routinely hosts special board meetings at noon,” EPS communications director Amber Fitzgerald said. “Due process hearings often last many hours. The noon start time will allow both parties ample time to present necessary evidence and witnesses, as well as provide the board with needed time to deliberate and make a decision.”
When it comes to witnesses, timing isn’t Merchen’s only concern.
“Just about every school employee who we have as a witness is terrified of facing retaliation if they testify for officer Dods,” he said.
In addition to his failed request to reschedule the hearing, Merchen also asked EPS’ legal counsel for a written guarantee that no one who testifies will face “any form of retribution or retaliation,” he said.
“We have employees who still fear retaliation, who believe they will be fired if they testify, but they’re willing to do so anyway,” Merchen said.
However, “those folks are few and far between,” he said. “The kind of coercion and intimidation that has gone on in the Dods case, school employees are just as afraid of it.”
EPS said Merchen’s concerns are unwarranted.
“Mr. Dods’ attorney has been assured that those who are needed to testify may take personal leave to attend,” Fitzgerald said. “There will be no retaliation towards anyone involved in this process. The district and the board of education are committed to a fair and thorough hearing in accordance with the laws of the state of Oklahoma.”
Merchen isn’t sure how long the hearing will last. Though the number of witnesses presented by both sides largely determines the hearing’s length, it is difficult to predict whether it will be over in a day or after several, he said.
Whatever happens, Merchen said he has been pleased with the support for Dods he’s seen in the community.
“One of the hardest parts of a case like this is feeling abandoned and alone, and so the fact that people are stepping up and have expressed interest in supporting officer Dods, is really encouraging,” he said.