In less than six months, the Jackson County School Board will be charged with deciding whether to reappoint Superintendent Barry Amacker or fire him.
Come Jan. 1, 2019, a new law takes effect that calls for school boards to appoint superintendents, a job that has for years been an elected position in some school districts like Jackson County.
And that's only fueled the fight among parents like Holly Fedele, who says she is not backing down from her fight to have Amacker removed from his job for failing to report a disabled girl's assault to state education officials.
Amacker said he did not personally file the report with MDE but confirmed through the school district’s human resources director that a report on the incidents in 2014 and 2015 had been mailed to MDE. However, he could provide no documentation to back up those claims, and MDE is investigating.
In response to Fedele's demands for Amacker's firing, School Board President Kenneth Fountain wrote her to say the board had no authority to fire the superintendent because he is an elected official. In addition, he said Fedele had no evidence to support her claim that the incident went unreported to MDE officials.
State Sen. Brice Wiggins said Wednesday the Board will eventually decide who will serve as superintendent. He said it took lawmakers four years to get legislation passed to take the politics out of deciding superintendents in the state
"Before, the people elected the school board, but then the superintendents weren't accountable to the Board," Wiggins said. "The citizens were feeling like they (superintendents) were not accountable to anyone."
The main opponent to the new law and any other education reform, Wiggins said, has been from the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents, of which Amacker is a member.
In Fountain's response to Fedele's grievance, he said: "While the Board is mindful of the fact that MDE is presently investigating that very issue, there was simply not sufficient evidence presented .... to the Board to support a conclusion that the proper report had not been filed by the superintendent, That being said, the Board's disappointment and confoundment with the superintendent and his staff for not being able to produce a copy of the report he says he sent to MDE ... cannot be understated."
Amacker told the Sun Herald on Tuesday he had no plans to step down or retire.
"This was a terrible situation that we handled in a sure, swift manner and involved law enforcement immediately," Amacker said. "The fact that the legal case is just now coming to bear may have some confused in thinking we were slow in our action, but that is absolutely not the case, as the evidence shows. We will continue to look for ways to keep the JCSD a safe place to learn and grow.
"We have an amazing district, and I am proud of our many accomplishments," Amacker said in an email. "I plan to Press On and keep Raising the Standard!"
Amacker pointed out the school district immediately reported the information to the Jackson County Sheriff's Department to investigate as soon as it learned of the assaults. In addition, he said both the teacher and driver involved faced immediate termination.
Fountain said the School Board is still looking into the issue.
As a result of Amacker's failure to produce documentation to back up his claims of the reporting of the incidents to MDE, Fountain said the superintendent has put himself and the school district in the "unfortunate circumstance of not being able to fully validate and conclusively show that he and the district acted appropriately."
In the meantime, Fountain said the school board is taking action and reviewing all of its policies to ensure that the failure to report such incidents to MDE "will never happen again."
Before Fedele addressed the school board, she said MDE officials erroneously told her that she, on behalf of thousands of supporters, could ask for the board to fire Amacker.
"I'm disappointed," Fedele said. "Disappointed that MDE initially told me they could fire him. If I had known that couldn't happen, I would have done a petition asking for his resignation instead."
In her petition calling for Amacker's firing, Fedele garnered the support of more than 1,500 parents outraged over the assault on the student.