MOUNT VERNON — Steve Jefferson, engineering drafting teacher at the Knox County Career Center, remains on paid administrative leave while the Mount Vernon Police Department investigates allegations that Jefferson made threats during Thursday night’s KCCC board meeting.
Superintendent Bernie Pachmayer said she was in and out of the building on Friday and was not present when Jefferson was removed from his classroom and placed on leave.
“I’m real limited on what I can say because it is a personnel issue,” Pachmayer told the News this morning.
As to why it happened when students were in the class, Pachmayer said, “I’m almost positive we had to wait for some legal advice and [removal] actually did not happen in the classroom. I was not here, but I believe they used my office. One of the administrators went and got him. The police were in my office waiting for him, but [the police] didn’t escort him; the administrator did. That’s pretty typical.”
Asked whether board members had been contacted Friday morning, Pachmayer said, “I can tell you we don’t usually make a move around here unless the board is consulted.”
When the News asked if the board was in executive session after the open meeting to discuss Jefferson’s comments in open session, Pachmayer said, “We were not. But I can tell you that our board was quite fearful. Our board asked to be escorted out to their cars because they were afraid of what this man could do to them.”
Board president Richard McLarnan and board members Ken Boeshart and Paula Barone said they did not ask to be escorted from the building after the meeting on Thursday evening. McLarnan said they went down [to the board room] and had dessert and everyone just left after that.
Another source said two night custodians were asked to escort Pachmayer and secretary Anita Van Winkle to their cars around 11 that evening. It is unclear if that is a common practice when they work after dark.
Asked whether he felt Jefferson had made threats against the board, McLarnan said, “Well, he wasn’t very nice.” McLarnan also said he was not called on Friday morning, as he was in another career center building.
Board member Ruby Miller said she has been told not to say anything at this time and could not comment. Phone calls to board members Mary Jean Theaker and Margie Bennett were not returned as of press time.
Reached by telephone this morning, Steve Jefferson gave the News his account of the events on Friday.
When he arrived at the school, he said, he opened his classroom as usual and went back to the front office area to sign in and check his mail. He then returned to the engineering drafting lab. When the 8:10 bell rang, Jefferson stepped out into the hall outside the classroom door to monitor the students on their way to class.
Then the 8:15 bell rang to signal the start of class.
“I went on in at the start of class,” said Jefferson. “They did the Pledge of Allegiance, then the morning announcements. While the morning announcements were going on. After that, I moved to the back of the lab and gathered the students around to start giving instructions for the day. A couple of them had asked me about the night before. I knew they weren’t going to let me go through the day. So I said, ‘OK, let’s sit down and I’ll try to explain what happened and bring you up to date.’ Then Eric Lawson walked in. He’s my lab assistant. Then I started to explain what happened.
“A minute into my explanation, the door opened up and Mr. Derek Fisher [disciplinarian] and Jeff Lavin [principal], two administrators stepped in the door. Mr. Fisher asked me if he could see me a minute. ... He said ‘Mr. Kirk [KCCC director] would like to see you in Bernie’s office.’”
As Jefferson talked with Fisher, Lavin stayed with the class to cover. Jefferson asked for an association representative to accompany him, so instructor Bill Harris went with the pair to the office.
When they got to the superintendent’s office, the door was closed. When Jefferson looked inside, he saw two police officers. In addition to the officers, the office contained Kirk, principal John Feltman, Fisher, Harris and soon thereafter, Kelly Bell, another association representative. Jefferson said he wondered where Pachmayer was.
Kirk told Jefferson he was asked to come to the office “because the decision has been made. We are placing you on administrative leave with pay due to threats made against the school district. We will have someone go to your office, clear out any and all personal items that you want. They will be brought up to you, at which time you will be escorted from these premises and you will not be allowed back on the Knox County Career Center property.”
Bell asked what specifically was the threat that justified the administrative action, and Kirk, according to Jefferson, said, “I am not going to answer that question at this time.”
Fisher got Jefferson’s things from the classroom and the policemen escorted Jefferson out of the building through the superintendent’s door.
A formal letter from Pachmayer informing Jefferson of the investigation was sent by certified mail. It was acquired by the News by a public records request.
“This letter is to inform you that you are being put on Administrative Leave, with pay, pending an investigation into the comments you made to the Board on February 23, 2012, at the Regular Board meeting,” the letter stated. “Your comments were perceived as threats, not only to the KCCC institution, but to individual board members and administration.
“Until the investigation is completed, you will remain on Administrative Leave with pay.”
Mount Vernon Police Chief Mike Merrilees said the investigation is continuing and no further information from MVPD was available as of press time.