ENNIS – Concerned parents and residents gathered in Ennis High School auditorium Thursday evening for a town hall meeting called by the district’s administration to address three issues: two involving teachers and one involving a student.
“The purpose of this meeting is to hear concerns and answer questions the best we can regarding a teacher diagnosed with tuberculosis, the resignation and arrest of a former teacher and the reported sexual assault by a student,” Deputy Superintendent Dr. Richard Skuza said.
Two of the issues are still under investigation, he said, noting questions would be answered the best they could.
case of TB
Skuza first addressed the issue of a teacher having been diagnosed with TB, turning to Assistant Superintendent Kathy Cikanek to give a brief description and answer questions. “The teacher did not start at the start of this school year,” Cikanek said, saying the district is following a protocol outlined by the State of Texas Health Services. The district is notifying all students who potentially had contact with the teacher as well as other teachers and substitute teachers during the spring semester.
The district sent letters to the parents of current students advising them of the potential contact and offering a free screening to be scheduled at the school. The screening will be supervised by the state. Anyone tested will return to have the skin test read and any person whose test is positive will be referred for a chest X-ray.
“The testing will be at no expense if done through the school,” Cikanek said, saying if any treatment required would be provided through the state.
Audience members asked if their child could participate in the screening even though they did not receive a letter.
Cikanek answered that only those identified as potentially having had contact would be screened through the program and those with concerns should contact their doctor.
Questioned why the entire school’s population was not screened, Cikanek said the school was following the protocol outlined by the state, which felt, due to the size of the school’s building and the size of the population, the state felt it wasn’t necessary to test everyone at this time.
Skuza next addressed the issue of the former EHS ag teacher, Joshua Jaggears. Both Skuza and principal David Averett made an address on the issue prior to opening the floor for questions.
“At first, we felt that this did not involve any current students or minors,” Averett said. “We later found a current minor student was involved and at the point we contacted CPS.”
The district notified CPS on Aug. 26, he said, noting, “At that time, the teacher was placed on administrative leave.”
Jaggears resigned Aug. 31 and was arrested by Ennis police the same day. Jaggears allegedly had inappropriate sexual contact through text messages with minors; police have filed two charges of online solicitation of a minor against him.
Averett said the district initially thought the contact was only with a recent adult graduate of the school but has found that more than 20 students are involved.
District screening policy
Averett and Skuza both faced questions regarding new employee screening and district regulations on emails and texting between teachers and students.
The two said the district follows “a very stringent process” for screening that includes fingerprints and a “thorough” background check. Teachers are certified through the Texas Education Agency, with it noted that any teacher leaving a school district while under investigation – whether voluntarily or involuntarily – has his or her certification flagged.
One of the questions was ‘why do teachers use text messaging?’ with Skuza answering that it is an effective method of communication – and many of the students prefer texting. Many of the athletic coaches, band directors and others use texting to get messages and information to their students, he said.
A suggestion was made from another parent that parents should have the right to approve their student’s telephone information being given to a teacher. Averett said she had a “very good” suggestion and he would consider it for the future.
Another topic was an alleged sexual assault of a female student by a male student.
“The student was arrested and charged with sexual assault,” Averett said, saying he had no other specific details at the time of the meeting. He did say the allegations are under investigation.
Averett said the male student would not return to the high school campus pending the outcome of the case.
“We have a student code of conduct on how students will be handled,” he said.
All of the administrators who spoke emphasized the safety and welfare of the students of Ennis ISD.
Superintendent Dr. Barbara Qualls attended the town hall meeting but left before it was over to attend a previously arranged meeting where she was to be a speaker. Prior to leaving Qualls said, “Anytime a certified employee leaves under investigation, it is the district’s obligation to notify the State Board of Education. Our new employees are thoroughly screened.”
She went on to say she felt the issues were handled properly by the administration.