KRUM — The Krum school district community remained deeply divided after a popular high school vice principal was ousted Thursday night.
The school board authorized a voluntary separation agreement that pays Bernard Lightfoot through the end of December. The unanimous vote came after nearly three hours of deliberations behind closed doors with Superintendent Cody Carroll.
More than 100 residents attended the meeting, including dozens of high school students. They provided 30 minutes of tense testimony, and most waited until just after 10 p.m. to hear the board’s final decision. Some wore safety-green T-shirts with the hashtag “#SaveLightfoot.” Others wore black school spirit T-shirts with the slogan “This Is Us,” a nod to the television show about a mixed-race family.
As the unanimous vote came down (board Vice President Mark Cofer was absent Thursday), some people yelled to the board members that they were wrong, with one person shouting, “That’s bull----!” Other residents turned to argue with those who came to support the board. Earlier in the evening, one teacher and one longtime resident turned to address the crowd and not the board to tell them that the controversy was dividing the small community.
Krum ISD serves about 1,900 students living in an area just west of Denton to the Denton-Wise County line.
In the end, Carroll declined to comment on the controversy, which burst into the public eye about a week ago.
“I can’t discuss those personnel matters,” Carroll said.
Threads of public testimony stitched the story together Thursday night. Over the summer, the high school changed the way that it weighed certain classes in the calculations of grade-point averages and student rankings. Students came back to school to discover that their class rankings — which can affect college admissions and scholarship money — had changed dramatically from the year before.
In her public testimony, Deborah Donley said that her family was new to the district and she found the issue nerve-racking.
Her daughter recently graduated from another school district. Donley logged into the other district’s parent portal to see her daughter’s grades and class rank, she said. They kept close track of the information because it was vital to her daughter’s plans to get into nursing school.
Now, her son attends Krum High School and she cannot get that kind of information in the parent portal. She called the office to find out why.
“I was told it had to be requested,” Donley said. “You guys need to get with the times and get this information in the parent portal.”
One student whose ranking dropped turned to Lightfoot for help. Two days after he went to bat for the student, he learned his job was in trouble, according to Robert Dollins, a former school board candidate.
Dollins, who was wearing a #SaveLightfoot T-shirt, told school board members that they were sending the wrong message, both to the community and to the student who came to a trusted school administrator for help.
“That’s not the message I want to send,” Dollins said. “What can it mean to that child that came to him? What kind of weight is on their shoulders?”
Kimberly Hernandez, who has special-needs children in the district, echoed the sentiment, telling the school board that the perception had become the reality for many families in the district who knew Lightfoot well.
“Don’t bring anything up because you’re going to get fired,” Hernandez said.
Stephanie Powell told the board she started an online petition in support of Lightfoot, gathering 725 signatures even though many people said they were afraid to sign it.
According to the separation agreement, which the Denton Record-Chronicle obtained through an open records request, Lightfoot agreed to resign on Friday, Oct. 12. By then, word had already gotten out in the community. Rumors and accusations flew across social media. Some students and parents came to the home football game that Friday night dressed in #SaveLightfoot T-shirts.
Lightfoot’s son, Bryson, is a sophomore at Krum High School and the starting quarterback for the varsity football team. Bryson Lightfoot also spoke out for his father Thursday night, saying Krum is a wonderful place and it’s because his dad made it that way.
“You removed him for something that wasn’t right to do,” Bryson Lightfoot said.
Bernard Lightfoot had already signed the separation agreement Wednesday, the day before the school board met.
The grading controversy got the attention of Krum’s mayor and a former mayor, who have called out the district publicly for cronyism and nepotism. One board member and the high school principal are part of the extended Schertz family. In addition, the principal is married to the high school agriculture teacher.
On Thursday, Oct. 11, the day before forcing Lightfoot’s hand, Carroll wrote an open letter to the community announcing the district would investigate the grading controversy. On Tuesday, the school board released an undated letter to Education Service Center Region 11, asking for its help in an independent investigation. The service center is an intermediary between the district and the Texas Education Agency, which oversees Texas school districts.
Another half-dozen community members came to the district’s defense, calling for support of school board members and healing from the divide. Michael Wheeler urged the community to let the board do its job. Aaron Ennis said his support of the district wasn’t blind, but he was willing to let the system play out. Longtime resident Jackie Bell called the divide heartbreaking, particularly “the very negative things that have torn down so many other lives.”
Krum native Stephanie Thompson said it was great growing up in Krum and having her children attend Krum schools, too.
“As a parent, I support you and your decisions,” Thompson said.
Tae Fraser, a friend who sat with Lightfoot in the front row during the entire meeting, said that positive feeling about the district’s history may not be shared by all.
“You may have said it’s been great for 50 years, but it wasn’t great for everyone,” Fraser said.
Supporters hugged Lightfoot after the meeting, who wasn’t quite sure what will come next. His employment contract paid $76,500 over 11 months, so the separation agreement provides for not quite $20,000 through the end of December.
“I’m going where God’s going to take me,” he said.
Others who supported Lightfoot may still soldier on for district reforms. Local NAACP president Willie Hudspeth of Denton attended the meeting Thursday night.
While the school board was deliberating behind closed doors, Hudspeth rose and told the crowd he knew what was going on, as a former school board member himself. He visited with Lightfoot only briefly and didn’t know the facts of the case, but the community needed to know what was at stake, he said.
“You don’t realize how much power you have,” Hudspeth said, encouraging parents and students to continue to talk with one another. “So at the next meeting you’ll be ready — don’t just let this stop here.”
He told residents he would be in Krum on Sunday afternoon to help the conversation.
“If I’m there by myself, that’s OK,” Hudspeth said, adding with a chuckle, “It’s happened before.”
The meeting will be at 2 p.m. Sunday in the pavilion at the park at Saddlebrook Estates, at the corner of Saddlebrook Drive and Withers Way, Hudspeth said on Saturday.