Supporters rally for gym teacher at BOE meeting

Parents, students and others interested parties attended DeKalb County School District’s Board of Education meeting Jan. 7 in hopes that they could sway the board’s decision on Henderson Mill Elementary School’s James O’Donnell’s employment fate.

The Henderson Mill Elementary coach was suspended as a result of how he allegedly disciplined a fifth-grade student.

According to DeKalb County parents, before Thanksgiving break, the coach sent a student out of the gym for spitting on the floor. Since the gym was full, the student was asked to stand in the doorway in O’Donnell’s line of sight, they said. He was asked to stand under the door awning that connects the school’s gym to the main building during rainy and mid-40s weather.

According to DeKalb County parents, other students observed the reprimanded student dry “late in the class.” The student allegedly “ran around” in the rain and went home wet, according to DeKalb County parents.

O’Donnell was suspended and allegedly told by school district officials to retire or be fired after an investigation was completed by the district.

DeKalb County School District’s board has not announced any resolution to the suspension of O’Donnell.

“There is a lot of anger and frustration in our community about [O’Donnell’s] ongoing suspension,” said supporter Julie Herron Carson.

Residents line up to attend the DCSD Board of Education meeting Jan. 7.

Parents and students of Henderson Mill Elementary noticed O’Donnell’s absence upon returning to school Jan. 7. His absence prompted a group of supporters wearing matching shirts to attend the Jan. 7 DCSD board of education meeting.

“He is really a part of our family in many ways,” said supporter Charles Hankla. “I had had him as my P.E. teacher from 1980-1988 and two of my daughters had him for six years.”

Supporters did not get a response from the DCSD board as the meeting was a community input session only.

Some of the same people also attended the “On the Scene with Dr. Green” DCSD event on Nov. 29, to show their support for the coach.

“This is a personnel matter,” said DCSD Superintendent R. Stephen Green on Nov. 29. “It’s confidential and under investigation as we speak. I’m not at any liberty to engage with you or talk with you about this. All I can say is that you’re entitled to your opinion. I will sit and listen.”

Supporters have also made a “Support for Dr. James O’Donnell (OD) Henderson Mill Elementary School” Facebook page, which now has 857 members.

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