After Hermes, Cook Resignations; Waverly School District Without Principals

By Benjamin Cox on October 14, 2020 at 10:38pm

The Waverly School District will have no principals in its school buildings when school starts this morning. The school board effectively accepted the resignations of Elementary School Principal Tammy Hermes and Jr./Sr. High School Principal Brian Cook. The board also voted to table the interim promotion of High School Physical Education Teacher Scott Hendricks to interim principal of both buildings. They also voted to table the motion of promoting current Math intervention specialist Robin Lowder to Dean of Students.

Board President Mike Keeton said after the meeting that administrative meetings with Superintendent Dustin Day would take place to see how the void will be filled: “I’m going to talk to the superintendent on how we are going to proceed with that. We just felt like we just needed to take a step back, and we’ve had people reach out to us expressing interest. We think we should at least see what the opportunities are out there before we make a final decision.”

Keeton and the board was met with opposition from the community in heavy numbers. Approximately 100 people filled the high school gymnasium to voice support for Hermes and Cook, as well as the district’s students and staff. Approximately 25 students were among the crowd who attended. Stephanie Ortman, a concerned parent in the district read two letters signed by multiple families in the district asking for a resolution to the district’s issues with e-learning and for answers concerning transparency surrounding the investigation involving alleged misconduct and sexual harassment incidents perpetrated by Day.

Former School Board member Valerie Duewer reminded those in attendance during her public comment that being a board member was a hard job to perform, and that the board was likely acting on the advice of their legal counsel to proceed in the matter. Duewer also asked the board to be transparent with their staff and the public on the direction they intended to go in the process.

Parents gathered in the high school gym starting at 6:45 for the board meeting. Approximately 100 residents, students, and teachers in the district gathered to voice their concerns over the ongoing investigation into Supt. Dustin Day.

Keeton said the board had prepared a statement prior to the meeting: “I would like to assure the public that the investigation [into Day] did not concern sexual harassment to students. There is a mechanism in place to be followed to investigate sexual harassment. The board followed its obligations in conducting an investigation into the allegations. The board found that there was content that need to be corrected but it did not find it to be terminal.”

During her address to the board, Hermes voiced disagreement with the board’s statement and the 7-0 decision to reinstate Day to his position on Tuesday after 5 weeks of administrative leave: “Over the course of the last several years, I have witnessed the creation of a hostile work environment which completely goes against my values and character as a leader. I cannot work for a superintendent nor be an administrator in a district that exhibits and tolerates sexual harassment, lying, sabotage, and intimidation tactics. Over the past six years, I have had first-hand experience of being on the receiving end of sexually harassing comments that were intended to diminish my character and credibility as a woman and leader in this district…I have witnessed intimidation methods used on myself, co-workers, and worst of all, students at both the high school and elementary levels. These concerns have been brought to the board’s attention on multiple occasions with little to no action to protect students and staff.” Hermes went on to detail the process that she began with the allegations, going through the chain of command in early September reporting the sexually harassing remarks, which she accused Day of giving. Hermes refused to air the details, which she called “graphic” during her comment, but she believed that the word of what happened would get out to the community.

Cook says that he could no longer work a job that would compromise his integrity by tolerating the behavior that he had personally witnessed. Cook’s wife, Tina, is also a substitute teacher in the district, and she said that she would no longer work in the district nor allow the couple’s children attend school in the district due to fear of retaliation over the incident.

Several parents spoke on condition of anonymity to WLDS News saying that their student had experienced issues with Day, including intimidation tactics that had been used during alleged discipline hearings directly with students.

The Waverly School Board voted 7-0 to accept the resignations of Hermes and Cook effective immediately. Cook said that the resignations were submitted in writing this past Friday. Keeton says the board followed procedure: “I would just say that the investigation was done and we had to make a decision. Their resignation is their resignation, and that was the decision that they made. That’s their personal decision. The board did what we were required to do.” Keeton says that he is not worried about a mutiny among staff due to the board’s decision: “No, I don’t think they will do that. I think our staff are professionals and I think they are going to show up and do their job. We have an excellent staff and teachers. I am confident in that.”

Parents expressed their disagreement with the lack of leadership at the schools moving forward prior to adjournment. Several commented that they would be pulling their students from the district out of safety concerns with no principals in the buildings. One parent called the lack of board action to terminate Day’s employment a “cancer” on the district that would fester. Others said that it was errant procedure to have school days in the buildings without administration present. Keeton, at one point, even offered to act as principal as a last resort. Several heated remarks were exchanged before Keeton called adjournment to the meeting. One gentleman was asked to leave after verbally accosting Day and another board member.

Cook and Hermes said through their legal counsel they would be pursuing possible suit over the sexual harassment allegations. Those actions could include filing a complaint with the State Board of Education, filing a Title VII sexual harassment claim, and a civil lawsuit against the board and Day for lack of action in a sexual harassment matter. Hermes says that she hopes that her and Cook’s resignations bring awareness to what has happened in the district: “Our purpose tonight to explain and get the word out about what has been going on, because it has been hidden and put under the rug for a very long time. We wanted to let the community and other communities know what’s going on and hopefully give a voice to other people who have been put in this situation. It’s not okay.”

Cook struggled for words about the situation: “I think Tammy put it best. It’s too late for us. I just hope the board thinks about it a little bit more when it happens next time.”

Day could not be reached for comment after the meeting. In a brief phone conversation on Tuesday, Day told WLDS News he has been instructed by the board and by the district’s legal counsel to not comment on the matter publicly at this time.