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Parents want kids removed from JC teacher's classes

SAM WATSON • Apr 27, 2007 at 11:45 AM

Teacher suspended


JOHNSON CITY - Parents have asked Indian Trail Middle School to remove their children from a recently suspended music teacher's classes in the wake of a complaint that he asked a female student to pose in a mermaid costume, an official said Friday.

Johnson City Director of Schools Richard Bales said a few parents had sent Indian Trail Principal Tammy Pearce letters requesting that their children be removed from Les Leonard's classes should he return to Indian Trail.

Bales also said he and Pearce planned to meet Monday with Leonard to discuss his employment.

"We will talk about his status as a teacher in the school system," Bales said.

Bales, who earlier this week said he did not believe the incident warranted termination, declined to elaborate about what he intended to say to Leonard about his employment status.

"I'm not going to say anything until after we meet with him personally," Bales said.

The director said he had maintained contact with Johnson City Board of Education members regarding Leonard's status, and he had spoken with local law enforcement officials about the complaints, but he declined to explain the nature of the conversations.

Although Leonard had served his suspension and returned to Indian Trail to teach earlier this week, he called in for sick leave on Thursday and Friday, Bales said.

Administrators suspended Leonard, who teaches general music and chorus, for three days without pay after a female student reported that he asked her to pose in a mermaid costume for a photograph when they were alone together in his classroom.

According to an April 17 letter in Leonard's personnel file, Pearce learned during the course of her investigation that Leonard had on at least two other occasions asked female students to stay after school to change their clothes and put on costumes for photographs.

Along with suspending Leonard, Pearce banned him from taking Indian Trail students on field trips without the presence of a school administrator until further notice. The principal also removed the student who complained about the mermaid costume request from Leonard's general music class.

Pearce canceled two chorus field trips - one to Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Va., scheduled for Wednesday and a second to Carowinds near Charlotte, N.C., scheduled for May 4 - citing a lack of adequate personnel for supervision. In an April 19 letter to parents, Pearce apologized for the cancellations, saying she had "the safety and best interest of our students in mind."

Leonard, whose home telephone number was not listed in the school's directory, could not be reached for comment.

According to Pearce's letter to Leonard, the student reported that the teacher asked her to stay after class to pose with his guitar and asked her to put on the mermaid costume for a second photograph, a request that she declined.

Pearce asked Leonard to submit a written account of the events to the best of his knowledge. In that account reprinted in Pearce's letter, Leonard indicated that because photographs from a recent event did not turn out, he asked the girl to pose in the mermaid costume to record the event.

In her reply, Pearce noted that the girl was not in the school's chorus, so she had not been in the show; therefore, asking the girl to pose for such a picture was unjustifiable.

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