Raceland board meeting riddled with accusations

Sep. 18—RACELAND — A Raceland-Worthington School Board meeting contained contention on Monday evening as attendees demanded answers concerning recent accusations of students being groomed or sexually abused by multiple school personnel members.

School-hired attorney Tim Crawford started off the meeting by presenting state statutes that prevent board members from commenting on personnel matters and instead instructed community members to book a private meeting with Superintendent Larry Coldiron to discuss their concerns.

The instruction from Crawford was met with laughter from a large number of about 60 community members who had gathered in the central office, with one attendant calling on Coldiron to step down or have the board remove him, which was received by applause.

A Kentucky statute concerning public school board meetings require a 15-minute public speaking portion, but attendees were cut short after concerns over the school system failing to alert parents of pending investigations and potential victimization of their children were met with silence.

Crawford parroted the above instructions throughout the public address, reiterating to attendees the school board had no say on personnel decisions and again referred them to Coldiron for a private conference.

Rachel Slone, a parent of a student in the district, led the public comment portion.

"You want us to believe this is the best school that our high schoolers can attend. We're hearing terrible rumors about the staff and the teachers at our high school and we're not even being reassured that anything is being done to keep our children safe," Slone said.

"The rumors that we're hearing are grooming and sexual abuse of children," Slone continued.

Crawford instructed Slone to Coldiron for a meeting, which prompted an eruption of laughter.

"You do understand why the audience is laughing, correct?" Slone said. "The issue is that there is a conflict of interest if we are wanting to meet with the superintendent."

Multiple sources, wishing to remain anonymous, have relayed accusations of sexual abuse involving a member of a Raceland-Worthington High School employee with familial ties to Coldiron.

Cindie Thompson, a grandmother of two Raceland students, shed light on additional accusations of a current, different staff member communicating inappropriately with a 10-year-old student.

"These rumors are disturbing and, as a grandmother, it hurts me to hear. ... They are actually nefarious enough that the public, the parents and grandparents, need to know if this is being investigated properly," Thompson said.

"I do not know Mr. Coldiron personally, but I think there is a connection that would cause a conflict of interested based on the alleged rumors. ... This is just too close to home," Thompson continued.

Thompson discussed numerous screenshots she personally read allegedly depicting inappropriate conversations between a teacher and a young girl.

"If this isn't addressed openly, with integrity, with truth, transparency and for the goal of protection of the children in our school system ... can we make a motion or a vote that Mr. Coldiron step down or be removed?" Thompson said, garnering a round of applause.

Each board member — Sandy Loperfido, Brad Fairchild (appearing virtually), Donald Rambo, Jeff Vance and Jerry Epling — and Coldiron continued to refrain from comment.

"This isn't just one employee; there are multiple employees we're talking about," Thompson said. "With all due respect for each and every one of you that I am friends with ... I am quickly losing respect for each and every one of you if you do not address this in a way that is acceptable to the public."

Another attendee spoke up, saying the whole situation could have been handled weeks ago with a simple press release saying the allegations are being adequately investigated.

Multiple people in attendance began to call out over one another, requesting a public meeting with Coldiron then and there but again were instructed to call the superintendent's office for a meeting.

A teacher from Greenup County Schools attempted to ask a question regarding school policy concerning contacting students outside of school, careful not to address a specific personnel issue — but she was met with the same response from Crawford.

At Greenup County Schools, the woman said there are strict policies in place and if she were found to violate it, she would be terminated, whether she broke the law or not.

"There's been enough going on in this community and rumors, at least you can say 'We hear you,'" she said.

There was no clarification on school policy regarding communication with students or what would constitute grooming — nor is it clearly accessible online as of this writing, though Crawford said it's available on the school's website.

Grooming, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, involves manipulative behaviors that the abuser uses to "gain access to a potential victim, coerce them to agree to the abuse and reduce the risk of being caught."

According to RAINN, "grooming can take place online or in-person. It's usually employed by a family member or someone else in the victim's circle of trust, such as a coach, teacher, youth group leader or others who naturally have some interaction with the victim."

A case regarding a protection order filed by a parent against a Raceland-Worthington Schools employee over alleged "grooming" of a student appeared on a local court docket within the last couple months. The Daily Independent is working to access its contents.

Kris Baldridge, a 2006 Raceland-Worthington graduate, publicly pointed out what he viewed as a conflict of interest regarding the presiding judge in that case.

Following the premature end to the public comment section — the board allotted the public just 13 minutes, all told — and resuming of the regularly scheduled agenda, Thompson spoke with The Daily Independent.

Thompson, a registered nurse by trade, said now is the time to intervene against problems at the root.

Thompson said in her profession, it's a lot easier to prevent and treat childhood trauma before it occurs than it is to address the issues of an adult who has previously been abused.

"We have to tackle these things at the root," Thompson said.

When asked if she felt the community members' concerns were adequately heard by the board on Monday, Thompson said: "Absolutely not."

As far as her belief in the legitimacy of the allegations, Thompson said there's too much talk and documented "proof" to brush it under the rug completely. "Where there's smoke, there is fire," Thompson said.

Baldridge said he planned to schedule a meeting with Coldiron on Tuesday morning.

"First thing (tomorrow)," he said following the meeting on Monday night.

Standing alongside about a half-dozen fellow Raceland alumni members and a woman whose children are in the school system, Baldridge said he and others accompanying him on Monday love the school.

"We're passionate about this place," he said. "That's why we're here."

Baldridge said he would've been more satisfied if the board allowed community members to "openly schedule an appointment with Larry (Coldiron) in a public setting like this because there's more than one parent that wants to talk to him."

Baldridge's brother, Kory, said he would've been content if Coldiron resigned on the spot.

Coldiron is responsible for personnel decisions.

"No laws have been broken, period," Coldiron told The Daily Independent on Friday, "by any staff member in our school system."

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