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Donnell retains employment with Lee County School District

By Staff | May 3, 2011

An agreement reached between the Lee County School District and Dr. Derrick Donnell’s attorney Tuesday afternoon will allow the principal to return to work within the district by continuing his suspension with pay until a new position in a non-classroom setting is found.
Interim Superintendent Dr. Larry Tihen said Donnell’s attorney withdrew their request for an administrative hearing and asked to meet with him to see if a resolution could be reached. He said he respected the request and honored it.
“I agree with the request and think it is appropriate,” he said, due to the positive way he approached a positive resolution.
Tihen said since the board did not vote on anything Tuesday afternoon Donnell, is still suspended with pay. A meeting with appropriate district personnel is in the process of being set to discuss Donnell’s job.
District spokesperson Joe Donzelli said both parties, the district and Donnell’s attorney, agreed Tuesday that a consensus could be met. He said Donnell will not return to Alternative Learning Center West as the principal or at any school.
He will be “taken away from the classroom setting,” Donzelli said.
Donnell was suspended with pay in December after an anonymous letter sparked an administrative investigation into alleged unethical behavior on the part of Donnell, who was accused of promoting some students inappropriately and changing grades. The investigation broadened in scope and ultimately included an allegation of sexual harassment based on remarks reportedly made.
Termination was recommended.
Donnell refuted the allegations in a 25-page response and last week said he would seek the administrative hearing, a request retracted Tuesday before the school board was expected to vote on whether to change his suspension status to without pay.
According to Donzelli, district policy states that when an employee withdraws an administrative hearing request they are in an agreement that the charges against them are a fact. He said it locks the investigation into place and everything contained in the report is fact.
Whether Donnell intended to, or did admit to the findings by withdrawing his request for a hearing could not be immediately be determined Tuesday.
His well wishes, meanwhile, greeted the news as vindication for Donnell.
The lobby at the Lee County School District Education Center, which was full of many family members, friends and colleagues who wanted to speak on Donnell’s behalf, broke out into cheers once he found out that the agenda item was dropped.
“I am overwhelmed today,” Donnell said smiling.
He said the support he has received since December has been tremendous. Donnell said he has received numerous emails, text messages and phone calls throughout the investigation and Tuesday afternoon by those who could not make it to the meeting.
“It is heartwarming to know that people do care for you,” Donnell said.
He said the item was pulled from the agenda and he is done and ready to move on. He will finish off his contract this year until the end of June and see what comes next.
“God is good,” Donnell said about Tuesday’s outcome.
Donnell’s sister Denise drove 10 hours from Mississippi, so she could continue to show her brother her support, along with stepping in for her parents who could not be there Tuesday afternoon.
“We walked through the process and the system did not fail us and we are grateful,” Denise said. “I am thankful that God is faithful.”
With the decision that was made Tuesday, she said now her family is on a path of healing and wholeness.
“I am excited about this new day,” Denise said while letting out little sounds of joy. “I cannot contain my excitement.”
She said the investigation has been extremely difficult for her family because every decision that was made affected the entire family, along with threatening the livelihood of her brother. Denise said it was especially hard for her parents to watch their son go through a “traumatic experience because they knew he was innocent.”
It was hard on the family, Denise said, because it was something new that her family had to experience, which took a toll on them because everything that was said and done.
Teresa Watkins Brown came out Tuesday afternoon to help support her friend and colleague and speak on his behalf because “he is a good, ethical person.”
She said it is a joy to know that it is over and that he has his job back. Watkins Brown said she appreciates the fact that the Lee County School District has been fair, just and honorable.
“I have faith in the justice system of Lee County,” she said.
Wayne Perry, another friend of Donnell’s for more than 10 years, wanted to get his turn in speaking Tuesday afternoon during public comment, but was glad it happened the way it did, so his family can move on. He said he and his wife wanted to let Donnell know that they were behind him because his heart was breaking for him throughout the investigation.
“He is a good honest man and one of the nicest men,” Perry said. “He has a knack for reaching these kids.”
He said he is glad the process is over and it worked out for Donnell and wishes him the best.