The Scarlet Letter

Someone penned an anonymous letter making damning allegations about Normandy High School principal Alvin Smith. He blames it on a disgruntled ex-employee out to take him down. Trouble is, some of the letter is true.

"As far as I know, it was all rumor and innuendo and stuff, and to my knowledge, it still is," Tevlin says.

The letter, in fact, contained more than rumor or innuendo. Although some of the allegations in the letter fall into a gray area and may never be irrefutably proved true or false, other allegations, by Alvin Smith's own admission, are true.

In 1979, while a gym teacher at Northwest High School in the city of St. Louis, Smith admits, he impregnated a girl who was then a high-school senior. He says he isn't sure how old the girl was at the time of his relationship with her; the letter suggested she was 17 when she became pregnant, though a birthdate provided by the letter's author suggests she was 18. Smith, who says he was separated from his wife at the time, was in his early 30s.

He says it wasn't as bad as it sounds. He says the girl told him she was a 19-year-old college student at Harris-Stowe State College when they began their relationship -- and he maintains that he did not realize otherwise until she appeared in Northwest's gymnasium one day, attending a class taught by the other gym teacher on staff. "When she came into class in the middle of the semester, I was surprised to see her. If she was there earlier in the semester, I never knew it. We terminated the relationship at that time," he says. "I didn't know how old she was, but seeing as she was a student there, I had to cut it off."

Fifteen years later, he adds, the girl sued him for paternity and child support; until then, Smith says, he had been unaware he had a daughter with her. A blood test proved the woman's child was in fact his daughter, and Smith says he continues to pay child support. His daughter was a student at Normandy High a few years ago -- while Smith was principal. "I knew it would look bad," he says, "but I didn't want to disturb things. Then she transferred out."

Smith also concedes that he had a "substance"-abuse problem in the early 1990s -- though he will not say what that substance was. He worked as an assistant principal at Jennings High School from 1987-91, then left that job and entered a yearlong treatment program at a "spiritual recovery center" in Pennsylvania.

He says his substance-abuse problem stemmed from his divorce but that he returned from Pennsylvania a changed man. "I came back rejuvenated," Smith says, adding that he told the Normandy district about his problem before he was hired in 1993. "They checked my background. I was honest and straightforward."

One claim in the anonymous letter was flatly disproved. It alleged Smith was the subject of an adult-abuse complaint in the city -- but it actually involved another Alvin Smith. Other allegations are more difficult to sort through. Though the paralegal who was assigned to investigate the letter's claims says she was unable to contact the two girls named in the letter, or their parents, they were both easily reached by the The Riverfront Times. Both families say they were never contacted by Ormsby or anyone representing the school district.

The mother of one of the girls named in the letter would not discuss Alvin Smith, other than to say she had not been contacted by the district and to say her unwillingness to talk was the result of advice from her attorney. But Smith himself confirmed he had, at one point, been accused of molesting the girl but that the accusation was made during a disciplinary action against the girl and the allegation was quickly withdrawn. "There once was a parent who said, 'If you suspend my daughter, I'm going to claim you sexually molested her.' I called for a meeting with the lady and the child and her ex-husband, and the child was asked. She said, 'Mom, I told you that man never touched me.' It was in front of witnesses, and that was that."

David Hoefakker, who now works for the Ritenour School District, was employed by the Normandy School District as director of secondary education until two years ago. He agrees that an allegation was made. But during a meeting with the girl's mother and father about disciplinary action and the girl's claims, the father said, "This is not true, and we will deal with it." Hoefakker says the matter was closed. "Nothing was found to be in the least bit true in the allegations that were made."

As for the other girl named in the letter, school employees and the girl's aunt verified that she had previously complained to them about Alvin Smith's comments to her. The letter claimed the girl had spoken to a ninth-grade secretary about Smith -- confiding that Smith "would go on about how she should wear her hair, dress and stop by to see him." It claimed she felt uncomfortable around him and that she "did everything she could to avoid him."

The ninth-grade secretary says that conversation did occur last year, after the girl, a sophomore, had gone to assistant principal Gina Bell-Moore to complain. The girl told her that Smith "talked about how cute her hair was and she was and all of that kind of stuff, and she came and she said she was afraid of him. She didn't like to be around him." And the girl was upset because Bell-Moore had apparently brushed off her concerns, the ninth-grade secretary says. Later, after the letter surfaced, the secretary says, she was grilled by Smith and questioned by the paralegal. "Mr. Smith actually asked what she told me and what was her name, and I got kind of upset and I said, 'You know what her name is.'" He also demanded that she tell him who wrote the letter.

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