Former Coahoma superintendent awarded back pay, continues to fight for reinstatement

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Coahoma County School District

Xandra Brooks-Keys

The Coahoma County Board of Trustees voted to terminate then-superintendent Xandra Brooks-Keys on March 27, 2018 and that decision just cost the school district $89,761.29.

On June 3, the Coahoma Chancery Court approved Brooks-Keys’ request for back pay with interest for the nearly 10 month period between her termination and the Dec. 18 administrative hearing on the decision. The case is ongoing as Brooks-Keys fights to be reinstated as superintendent of the Coahoma County School District. Brooks-Keys and her counsel plan to provide their oral argument for wrongful termination in front of the judge within the next 90 days.

Brooks-Keys’ contract stated that she wouldn’t be removed from her position unless a finding of “gross negligence, malfeasance in office, or commission of a crime.”

“She didn’t go off the wagon, I’m just telling ya. There are instances where ya gotta fire people, but this was just not it,” said Brooks-Keys’ lawyer, Samuel Begley.

School board attorney Nathaniel Armistad and Interim Superintendent Dr. Ilean Richards did not respond to requests for comment.

A vast collection of emails and court documents sent to Mississippi Today have provided a closer look at the case and the conflicts that have caused it to drag on for over a year.

The matter started as a five day suspension Brooks-Keys received in January 2018. Begley requested that her suspension hearing be held publicly and that all five school board members be examined by him under oath.

Begley also objected to the board’s two proposed hearing officers due to alleged pre-existing friendships with the Board’s attorney. Over the next two months a hearing for Brooks-Keys could not be nailed down because all five members of the Board weren’t all available at the same time.

On March 27, the school board met and the four of the five members present converted the suspension to a termination. The reasons given for her termination were exactly the same as the initial suspension:

• 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

According to documents, the board’s justification for the first infraction is that they had received a number of complaints about parents not being able to get in contact with the central office. Brooks-Keys had also revealed in a school board meeting that she had a list of parents she would not speak to. She said that at least one parent on the list had threatened her with physical violence.

On the matter of staff accountability, the board cites an incident where two district teachers got into a argument over social media. The school’s principal recommended a one day suspension for one of the teachers involved, which Brooks-Keys upheld and presented to the school board. It then rejected this recommendation on the grounds that it would be unfair to only reprimand one of the teachers involved.

In regards to the absences issue, Brooks-Keys said whenever she was out from her office she was either taking care of school business in-district or meeting with MDE in Jackson. After the board made her aware it was an issue, she began notifying them by email whenever she was out. According to court documents, former board member, Larry Neal Haynes, alleges she took a three week absence from work after her initial suspension was rescinded.

The issue regarding the failure to set up an alternative school concerned a previous $96,000 per year contract with the West Tallahatchie School District to use their alternative school. The Board instructed Brooks-Keys to develop an in-district plan for an alternative school in September 2017, due to concerns over long commute times and the lack of certified teachers within the West Tallahatchie alternative school. Brooks-Keys presented a plan with an estimated cost of over $200,000 one month later, which the board rejected.