Exeter sub fired amidst bullying accusation

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Substitute said incident is misunderstanding

EXETER -- The Exeter School District has fired one of its substitute teachers amidst accusations of bullying and facilitating the bullying of an eighth-grade boy.

Ryan Holz, of Cassville, was fired by the district's board of education last week, and Ernest Raney, Exeter superintendent, said the situation was unfortunate, and the district prides itself on rising above such incidents.

"We heard what the parents reported to the board and listened to what [Holz] had to say as well," he said. "And, the decision the board made was in the best interest of the students. It's an unfortunate situation and the board, based on what Ryan shared with us and not what the parents said, did what it needed to do in terminating his employment by a unanimous vote.

"[Holz] has apologized for the situation and told the board he had no intention for this to take place."

Holz, who is pursuing a business degree at Crowder College, said when he was a substitute for the class, he did not think anything unusual was happening and the behavior seemed like standard ribbing from students of that age.

Holz said some students sitting next to the student were calling him a "retard," and some other students in the back of the class began picking on the boy as well.

"I told those kids they will still be copying off of him because he was the only one doing his work," he said. "They kept on, so I decided to change the subject.

"He had these really nice, fancy cowboy boots on and his pant leg tucked in, so I told him the story of how cowboys used to tuck in their pant legs when going through high brush so rattlesnakes wouldn't climb up their legs. I thought this would help change the subject, but the kids kept on making fun of him."

Holz said he later noticed the boy crying with his head on his desk, and he tried to ask the boy what was said that made him cry.

"He seemed to be OK before the end of the period, and if I thought he would be upset for a period of time, I would not have let him out of class without saying anything," Holz said. "And, if I had known the kid has been picked on for five years, I would have also done more to stop it. But, the ribbing didn't seem overly-cruel, and the kids' attention just needed to be redirected."

Raney said the school's principal, Robert Taylor, has met with the students in the class on an individual basis, and it is the district's job to make sure such incidents do not occur.

"We have counselors that work with the student to try to help them make good choices and bully-proof our district," he said. "When students begin to fall into this sort of behavior, it is up to us as adults to set the example and correct this behavior."

Holz said he feels the situation was blown out of proportion, and he hopes to get all parties involved in the same room to hash out what happened.

"All I want is for people to know the truth," he said. "It would have been so easy to clear this up if we had all gotten together and had a face-to-face conversation, but that did not happen. I left my card at the board meeting in the hopes the parents would call me at their own convenience so I could explain what happened.

"I have been here since 2004, and when I'm asked to coach or to volunteer with kids, I could easily stay at home. But, I love kids, and I can't believe Exeter didn't do their homework to find out why a volunteer would torture a kid like that. It doesn't make any sense that no one bothered to ask me what really happened and what I did to try to help the kid."

Holz said he was not contacted by the school about the incident until the Monday after it occurred, only two days before the board meeting in which he was fired and four days after the parents contacted the school. Holz said he was at the board meeting when it began, and school officials discussed the incident with him in a closed session before asking him to leave and listening to the parents' side of the story.

Holz said he did not know who the parents were or why he was even being asked to attend the meeting. But, after his conversation with the board about what allegedly happened, he said if he had known the boy's parents were at the meeting, he would have tried to speak with them personally.

Raney said he did not put Holz and the parents in a room together because the district did not want any confrontations, and Raney had not asked the parents' permission for him to speak with them.

"I asked when they were in the board meeting, [after we had spoken with Holz and he had left], if they would like to speak with him personally, and they did not," Raney said. "He wanted to speak with them, and we would have allowed it, but they said they did not want to call him or see him."

Holz said he fears the incident will put an end to his teaching career, as Cassville and Purdy schools have already contacted him about the incident. Holz said he also fears the incident may affect his volunteer work, as he volunteers for multiple groups in Cassville, including the soccer booster club, Upward basketball program and multiple other sport-related and church-related organizations.

"Those are all choices to be around kids ... [and] I love kids," he said. "Why would I torture that poor kid out of the blue while doing everything else?"

Raney said he is in the process of contacting the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in reference to the incident.

"I will send an email to DESE about what occurred, and I will call as well," he said. "We have cut ties and moved on to making sure we do what's best for our kids, and we want parents to have the confidence in the district I believe we've earned."

Each substitute teacher at Exeter is certified through DESE and individually approved by the school board to be added to the substitute list. Raney said Holz substituted twice at the school, earning $80 per day for his time.

It is the policy of the Cassville Democrat to withhold names of minors when incidents of this nature occur. The student's parents said they preferred to speak to an attorney before going on the record for this report.

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