The topsy-turvy case of Mike Dods v. Enid Public Schools began in the court of public opinion.
On Oct. 30, Oklahoma Education Association attorney Heath Merchen circulated a notice of claim. The teacher union stirred up support with unionized police to sway public opinion in favor of the ousted campus chief.
The explosive document alleged district and school administrators "directed Officer Dods to hide acts of violent student conduct and student threats on multiple occasions.” Outlining obstruction-of-justice allegations, Merchen also threatened a civil suit on behalf of Dods.
Appropriately, EPS patrons reacted with concerns for student and teacher safety. Among the multiple allegations against EPS administration were demotion without due process, termination in retaliation for reporting violent student conduct and damages to reputation.
The notice of claim did not disclose the incidents involved two different students, nor did it specify special needs classification or disclose an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. The special ed component certainly adds a different dynamic, throwing a complicated situation more into the court of the education system.
Felony charges were filed against Student A, and he received a court-issued "no-contact" order with other students.
During testimony this week, we learned Student A was assigned a paraprofessional. Despite his no-contact order, the student still has a legal right to attend school.
In the case of Student B, however, a metro-based campus police chief testified that no victims came forward in the scissor incident.
Everyone deserves equal protection under the law, but situations are not always that simple. An IEP, which is a legal document under U.S. law developed individually for special education students, shouldn’t be a license to behave inappropriately without consequences, but certain legal protections are in place.
Threatened with litigation, EPS and Dods announced a Nov. 11 compromise crafted by attorneys and the superintendent. According to the deal, Officer Dods would return to middle schools and elementary schools in a different capacity. This begs a question: If the district had serious concerns with the Enid High School campus cop, why reassign him elsewhere?
In a surprising move, the EPS Board of Education voted to reject the agreement. The board, which by law could not discuss that proposal together without a public meeting, acted transparently and held a nine-and-a-half-hour termination hearing on Tuesday.
After considering a significant amount of evidence, the board ultimately made the difficult but justified decision to terminate Dods.
Many district employees believe Dods is a good guy and well-meaning law enforcement official. At the hearing, EPS Superintendent Darrell Floyd said Dods is good with students and wanted him to be successful.
“But at the same time, he was going to have to change some of his behaviors that were increasingly causing a problem,” Floyd said of Dods during testimony.
And that issue was detailed in a 13-point Finding of Facts approved by the board before making the tough decision.
Still, parents and teachers want reassurances that administrators and campus police are properly trained to ensure student and staff safety. In the name of transparency, an examination of policies and procedures to fix systemic problems would increase public trust. Meanwhile, the Kay County District Attorney's office is investigating obstruction-of-justice allegations against EPS.
As for Dods, the OEA attorney has said his goal was to get key admissions for a suit, which could be filed as soon as the notice of claim expires. If that happens, the case will shift from the court of opinion into the court of law.