Superintendent Xandra Brooks-Keys Credit: Coahoma County School District

CLARKSDALE – After getting fired from her $120,000-a-year superintendent position, Xandra Brooks-Keys is fighting to get her job back — along with full back pay and compensation for her attorney’s fees.

Samuel L. Begley, of Begley Law Firm PLLC based in Jackson, filed a complaint for reinstatement of Brooks-Keys against the Board of Trustees of the Coahoma County School District on Monday.

School board attorney Nathaniel Armistad could not be reached for comment.

The complaint stated that Brooks-Keys is seeking judicial review of the action that the district took to “allegedly terminate her employment” and her five-day suspension.

The district terminated Brooks-Keys from her position on March 27, and Begley said she was completely blindsided by the move.

“It just came out of nowhere,” said Begley. “She wanted her side of the story to be told. She thought it was stigmatizing. I keep asking for a hearing to see if we can get it resolved, but we’re waiting.”

The board initially moved to suspend Brooks-Keys without pay in January. Board president Patrick Campbell sent a letter to her outlining the reasons for the board’s decision. The reasons stated were:

• Failure to communicate with parents concerning issues with disciplinary actions and other incidents concerning their children

• Failure to properly supervise and maintain accountability for the actions/inactions of your staff

• Insubordination: failure to effectively communicate with the Board of Trustees concerning absences and failure to set up an alternative school as required by the state

After the school board sent the letter informing her of the five-day suspension on Jan. 10, Brooks-Keys retained Begley as her legal counsel, Begley said. He added that he wasn’t sure the board had “the power to do a five-day disciplinary suspension.”

The board sent Brooks-Keys a letter on Jan. 23 informing her of her suspension hearing that was scheduled for Feb. 9 at the Coahoma County central office. 

Because Begley had just been hired to represent Brooks-Keys, on Feb. 1 in a letter to Armistad, Begley asked for the continuance of the hearing.

The suspension hearing was then scheduled for March 2, but on Feb. 9, Begley sent another letter to Armistad to request that the hearing be open to the public and that the five member board – Campbell, Lester Myles, Rico Smith, Larry Haynes, and Edward Kinnard – testify of their reasons for suspending the former school leader.

“I just wanted to examine them to see how they arrived at this decision to suspend the superintendent since they were the decision makers,” said Begley.

“Let’s have the hearing with the public so that all citizens can learn about this and since you five gentlemen were the decision makers on her termination or on her suspension, rather, why not give me the opportunity to ask you questions individually on the record under oath at how you arrived on that decision to suspend her.”

The complaint says that in a phone call, Armistad said it would be difficult to schedule a hearing if all board members had to testify. He added that in the matter of a suspension, Brooks-Keys would be entitled to a pre-discipline hearing, but if the board terminated her, which they did, she could be denied a hearing.

“When she got aggressive and got counsel, they said let’s just fire her. That’s the only thing that could’ve happened,” said Begley.

In her contract with the district, Brooks-Keys employment was to last until January 30, 2023. The contract was signed on June 14, 2016.

Under her contract, it states that the superintendent wouldn’t be removed from her position unless a finding of “gross negligence, malfeasance in office, or commission of a crime”.

The complaint argued that since she has a property interest in her job, prior to her termination, she must be “given notice of any charges against her, an explanation of employer’s evidence, and an opportunity for a hearing to present the employee’s side of the story”.

It stated that the board did not give Brooks-Keys an opportunity for a hearing prior to her termination, which deprived her of her constitutional rights.

John Mac Curlee, former conservator of the Aberdeen and Tate County schools, now serves as the interim superintendent for the district.

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Aallyah Wright is a native of Clarksdale, and was a Mississippi Delta reporter covering education and local government. She was also a weekly news co-host on WROX Radio (97.5 FM) and collaborator with StoryWorks/Reveal Labs from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Aallyah has a bachelor’s in journalism with minors in communications and theater from Delta State University. She is a 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report, and co-founder of the Mississippi Delta Public Newsroom.