Medley placed on administrative leave amid school safety concerns
The Sullivan County teacher whose controversial comments about gays set off a media firestorm has been placed on paid administrative leave by her school district.
The move comes as Northeast School Corp. officials work to address safety concerns caused by statements North Central High School special education teacher Diana Medley gave a local television news station on Jan. 10.
NESC Superintendent Mark Baker said in a Wednesday statement that Medley, although not mentioned by name, and North Central administration have received “aggressive” emails, which were given to local law enforcement for review. Those communications have led to a constant police presence at the school this week.
“... (T)hese law enforcement agencies, while they are here, are familiarizing themselves with our buildings, as is part of their regular training,” Baker said in the release. “For that, we are grateful for their support of our school and our students.
“This matter has created some heartbreaking differences in opinion. Please know we are always going to put the safety of our students and faculty first and any disruption of our educational process will be managed quickly.”
Medley made the controversial comments to Farmersburg-based WTWO as she was attending a planning meeting for a local group organizing a prom for straight-couples only. The group decided to create an alternative formal after learning the one at Sullivan High School might include same-sex couples.
During the interview, Medley said she believes gay people weren’t “born that way” and that it’s a “choice” they make. She also, when asked by a reporter if she believed gays have purpose in life, responded, “I don’t. I personally don’t. I’m sorry. I just ... I don’t understand it.”
The comments quickly received worldwide reaction that included Medley’s words and face being pasted all over the Internet. The story was covered on prominent national news organizations, talk shows and by syndicated columnists. It also led millions to air their disgust with Medley’s words on social media, such as Twitter and Facebook.
While talk of Medley’s comments on the Internet has somewhat simmered down, one Facebook page, “Fire Diana Medley,” has organized a “Purpose Rally” at North Central for 10 a.m. on Feb. 28. That protest, according to the page, is a reaction to Medley not being disciplined to date. A message to that page’s administrator was not returned Wednesday.
Baker would not comment on whether any disciplinary action is forthcoming. His statement Wednesday said that the “school corporation is continuing to manage as responsibly and respectfully as possible the fallout” from those comments. He also reiterated the district’s disappointment and disagreement with those words and “have emphasized they do not reflect the schools’ views or opinions.”
Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department vehicles were present on school grounds on Wednesday. The Times also received reports that a “SWAT” team was at the school that morning, but Sullivan County Sheriff Bryan Kinnett said that it was a scheduled visit by a Terre Haute task force — a type of response team not available in the county.
Chief Deputy Dave Haddix explained that he requested the unit visit the school given the current controversy. It’s an effort, he said, gets them familiarized with the grounds.
“The underlying thing was there has never been any threats against the kids,” he said, adding the precautionary measures were taken to ensure that the controversy doesn’t interfere with students’ education. “We are going to do everything we can to protect the kids and see their education is not disrupted.”
Kinnett continued that law enforcement nationwide have made efforts in recent months to become more familiar with schools in their districts in the wake of last year’s deadly Sandy Hook school shooting.
“The last thing we want to do is scare parents or kids,” he said. “There are no threats. It’s all preparation in case it’s needed, and we hope and pray to God that it is not.”
Baker added that a message was sent earlier this week to parents and faculty in the corporation about the police presence.
There was also a large police presence at Sullivan High School Wednesday night for a meeting of Southwest School Corp. Board of Trustees. The precautionary measure comes after the district was inundated with undeserved criticism based on inaccurate media reports, including that Medley was a teacher at SHS and that the corporation was affiliated with the group organizing the prom for so-called traditional couples.
Board President Grant Bryant read a statement reiterating that all students are encouraged to participate in the April 27 prom.
“We never attempted to sway or prevent any of our students from attending prom activities,” Bryant said. “We, as a school district, strive to treat each and every student with respect and dignity at all times.
“Every student is entitled to an equal educational opportunity, and it is the policy of the Southwest School Corporation to maintain an education and work environment which is free of all forms of unlawful discrimination and harassment. Members of our school community and third parties are encouraged to promptly report any incidents of discriminating or harassing conduct to an administrator, supervisor or other school position.”
It was the first meeting of SWSC trustees since the controversy began. The meeting was sparsely attended, and no one commented on the issue.
Meanwhile, the group planning the alternative prom has made its Facebook page open to the public again. A member of the “2013 Sullivan Traditional Prom” group posted on Monday that the deadline for high school couples to sign up is March 29.