POINT PLEASANT — Following an open hearing on Tuesday evening, the Mason County Board of Education voted to terminate the employment of James E. Jones, II, 52, of Point Pleasant, a math teacher at Point Pleasant Junior/Senior High School (PPJSHS).
Jones was initially suspended without pay following an alleged altercation with a 16-year-old male student. He was later arrested by personnel with the Mason County Sheriff’s Department and charged with felony child abuse causing risk of injury and misdemeanor battery. He was released after posting a $32,000 surety bond.
Jones was called to testify during the hearing by his attorney David Moore and was questioned about what happened in his classroom on Feb. 13 — a day which included the alleged altercation with the same student also accused of repeatedly throwing a pocket knife into the classroom ceiling. Jones said he was not aware of the student having a knife until later that day when he heard other students had been called into the office to provide statements. Jones said he was at the school until around 7 p.m., during which no one from the administration had talked to him. Jones said he then went to Dollar General, where he saw some students who told him that a student had a knife in his class. Jones said during the hearing had he been aware of a knife, he would have gone to PPJSHS Principal William Cottrill.
Jones said the next morning he was going to talk with Cottrill regarding the student with the knife, but he had been running late and went straight to his classroom. He said he was going to talk to Cottrill during his planning period, which is fourth period, but the administration were in meetings. Jones continued, saying he was doing instruction on Feb. 14 and had no idea of the severity of the situation until he was called to meet with Superintendent Suzanne Dickens, Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent Jack Cullen and Cottrill. He said no one had contacted him on Feb. 13 about the incident.
Jones then described the end of the class period on Feb. 13, saying the student began to walk out of the room before the bell rang. He said he asked the student to come back in and reached to touch the student’s hoodie to get him to re-enter the classroom and caught the string on his hoodie. He said the student then grabbed his tie and began choking him. Jones then grabbed the student’s hoodie strings and began to choke the student and said, “I’ll let go if you let go.” Jones said the incident lasted for around 20 seconds and that he did not report it at that time.
Jones also discussed recent medical issues he has experienced and said due to these issues he did not want to be involved with any kind of horseplay, with Moore presenting Jones’ most recent MRI as evidence. Jones also provided photographs of bruises where the student had punched him in the arm and kicked him in the ankle.
Jones discussed other incidents involving the student in the past where the student would try to initiate horseplay. Jones said he had reported some of the incidents, but nothing was done.
Later during the hearing, the student was called to testify. The student said when he threw the knife at the ceiling, he wasn’t trying to hide it from Jones and if Jones had been paying attention to the class he would have seen it.
The student also described his version of the incident at the end of class, saying Jones did not instruct him to return to his seat and, joking around, he acted like he was going to leave the classroom. The student said Jones grabbed his hood and wrapped his hoodie strings around his neck and began choking him. He then started to choke Jones with his tie. The student said he didn’t initially report it because he didn’t want “all this” (the hearing and other proceedings) to happen.
On Feb. 14, the student had found out that he was in trouble for the knife and eventually confessed to throwing the knife at the ceiling and wrestling with Jones. When asked why there wasn’t anything about choking Jones in his statement, the student testified he wasn’t fully explaining the situation at that time, but he is now. A level four violation, the student received 10 days of in-school suspension for having the knife at school.
The meeting continued for several hours and included some of the following testimony:
Nancy Bragg appeared for Jones, saying he was her grandson’s teacher who helps him in “any way he can.” Former student Courtney Bryant also testified for Jones, saying he had helped her complete a math class shortly before graduation — the instruction and completion of the class allowed her to graduate on time, she said. Randall Randolph then testified, saying Jones had been a tutor and teacher for his son and had been very helpful in his son’s education. Randolph also discussed two nights where his son was being tutored by Jones and the student involved in the Feb. 13 incident came in and punched Jones in the arm. He said Jones contacted Cottrill, who called the student’s parents, who then came and got him. Randolph said the next night in another tutoring session, the student did the same thing and Jones then called his parents. Randolph added the student had approached Jones in those instances.
Attorney Greg Bailey, who represented the administration and presented the board’s case, initially called Cullen to the stand who relayed meeting with Jones on Feb. 14, a day after the alleged altercation and knife incident. In addition to Cullen, also present during this meeting were Dickens and Cottrill. Cullen testified Jones said he was not aware of a knife and as for the alleged altercation, Jones told them students were lined up in the doorway, and one student had already gone out into the hallway before they were supposed to leave. Cullen also said Jones did not explain any other physical contact with this student at that time.
Cullen continued, saying during the meeting Dickens had statements from students in the classroom and said she was informed that Jones was “roughhousing” with a student and had choked a student until his face turned bright red. Cullen said Jones explained he was trying to get the student back in the classroom and got hold of the strings on the student’s hoodie to pull him back in the classroom. Cullen said Jones said the student liked to “wrestle around with him” from time to time. Cullen said Dickens asked Jones if he had ever reported any misconduct of this student to administration, to which Jones said no.
Cullen also said Jones did not make an attempt during the Feb. 14 meeting to explain that his conduct with the student was in self-defense. Jones has claimed to local media outlets that he was attempting to defend himself when the altercation occurred.
Dickens also testified, discussing the letters she had given to Jones explaining the charges and the disciplinary actions taken. She also discussed her reasons for recommending Jones’ employment be terminated.
The student’s father also testified, saying he felt the whole incident was blown out of proportion by the media, and his son was not fairly portrayed. Also testifying were Cottrill and the student who was in the classroom and was nearly hit with the knife. Cottrill discussed gathering statements from students, as well as Jones’ history of being written up for other incidents and a plan of improvement, which Jones did successfully complete. Cottrill said it showed that Jones could maintain a classroom, but chose not to.
Board members Tom Nunnery, Randy Searls, Paul Sayre and Dale Shobe voted to terminate Jones’ employment. Board member Greg Fowler recused himself from the hearing.
More on other agenda items from this meeting will appear in a later edition of the Point Pleasant Register.