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Layne protests transfer to school board at packed meeting

Tommy Layne (center) waits to speak while the Sequatchie County Board of Education honors the high school crosscountry team.

Nov. 5, 2018 – A wall-to-wall crowd attended the Nov. 5 meeting of the Sequatchie County Board of Education (BOE), most of them in support of the demoted principal of Sequatchie County High School (SCHS).

SCHS Principal Tommy Layne was transferred 10 days ago to Griffith Elementary School (GES), as a full-time/substitute teacher, for undisclosed reasons.

Nearly 200 people attended the meeting Monday night at GES and listened as Layne expressed his grievances to the school board.

Board Chairman Shelli Dodson told Layne he had three minutes to address the board, and then Layne distributed to each board member a copy of the letter Director of Schools Pete Swafford had sent him as official notification of his transfer.

He then told the board about Swafford notifying him on Oct. 26 that after 24 ½ years as principal of SCHS he was being reassigned to Griffith. He stated that Swafford told him he had three choices, to resign, to transfer, or to be dismissed. He further stated that contrary to board policy he had received no written notice of the reasons for his dismissal.

Tommy Layne protests his reassignment before the school board, in a packed meeting hall.

Swafford said he told Layne to come to the central office and pick up a written notice on Monday morning, Oct. 29, before reporting for work at GES, but Layne never came to pick it up.

Layne responded by telling the board that he was on sick leave for the entire week, with a back injury. He has not yet reported to GES.

When Dodson informed Layne that his three minutes was up, he protested, “You can't do this in three minutes!”

After Layne, high school teacher Chrisi Barker also spoke, in defense of Layne, pointing out all the good practices Layne had instituted at the school as principal, and concluding, “No student should ever walk into a school on a Monday morning to teachers in tears because not five minutes before they were told that their leader was no longer with them.”

Following the meeting, board member Sam Hudson thanked everyone for attending the meeting. He said that was a testament to the love that people had for Layne. But, he said, the hiring and firing of personnel “are at the sole discretion of the superintendent.”

Hudson also recommended that Layne avail himself of the school system's appeals process.

At that point, a half-dozen people in the audience stood and shouted, “We want the reason!”

As the meeting broke up, Layne told Dunlap News, “He has to give me a reason before he transfers me. That's the rule. He didn't give me a reason. I've broken no laws.”

When Dodson was asked if she could foresee the board disclosing the reason for that decision in the future, she said, “We're probably going to be sued, so we can't say anything right now.”

Director of Schools Michael L. "Pete" Swafford (at left) reassigned Tommy Layne to Griffith Elementary.  With him on the school board are (l-r):  Shelli Dodson, Sam Hudson, and Greg Johnson.

All Director Swafford would say was, “Some of it had to do with students. It was in response to a discovery – something we discovered.”

When asked if he planned to sue the school system, Layne responded, “I will decide that later.”

In a text conversation after the meeting, Swafford answered the following questions:

Q. Did Mr. Layne do anything illegal?

A. Nothing illegal.

Q. Have the board members been given access to the evidence you have?

A. I have answered individual questions from individual board members.

Q. Did you verbally give Mr. Layne the reasons for his transfer?

A. Yes.

In other business at Monday's meeting, the Sequatchie County BOE:

Monday night's meeting was held at GES, to allow the board the opportunity to inspect the school's new gym floor.