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.

Another secretary at the school, who did not want to be identified, remembers that the girl was "real upset. She said (Smith) picked on her for no reason and she thought he liked her."

The girl's aunt, who is her legal guardian, confirmed that her niece had complained to her about the principal's behavior. "She said he would have her come into his office and said she would look nice in a short skirt," the aunt says. "He would pick her out of a group of people, saying, 'You tall and nice-looking,' and little stuff like that." The aunt, however, says her niece didn't want her to pursue the matter. "She was like, don't really say nothing to make it harder on her. Lately, I guess, he hasn't been messing with her. He left her alone."

Smith vehemently denied ever making any comments to the girl. After being asked about the incident by the RFT and told of the aunt's comments, he had Bell-Moore call the girl into her office and question her. Though Ormsby, the paralegal, had expressed concerns about questioning the girl without her guardian's consent, Smith apparently did not share those concerns. "She said she didn't say that," Smith says Bell-Moore told him. "But she said that a lot of people were calling her house trying to get her to say something about me like that. She said she told them no."

The assistant principal, Bell-Moore, would not discuss her conversation with the girl -- or anything else about the letter: "I've been advised by my legal counsel not to make any comment. That's all I am going to state."

The letter and its contents might have been put to rest entirely in November, given the school district's handing of the matter, if not for Smith's decision to terminate Humphries' employment. Now the letter is a central issue in a federal lawsuit.

The suit does more than question whether Humphries was wrongly terminated. It questions Smith's fitness as a principal, and it questions the behavior of his supervisors, including the school board, in investigating the allegations -- or failing to do so.

The lawsuit accuses the district of conducting a "sham investigation" that was intended to whitewash the wrongdoing of Alvin Smith -- and it accuses the district of negligence for hiring a "sex offender" and failing to take corrective action for incidences of sexual harassment.

It raises questions about how the investigation was conducted, claiming that Ormsby, the paralegal, allowed herself to be introduced to school employees by Smith as "his lawyer." She denies it. And the lawsuit claims the focus of her probe was not on discovering whether the misconduct allegations were true but on discovering the identity of the mysterious author.

It also charges that the issues raised in the letter, whoever wrote it, were "for the public benefit concerning issues of public interest regarding whether Alvin Smith was a sexual predator placed by the defendant School Board in a position of authority over young and vulnerable female school children."

It seeks any wages lost by Humphries as a result of his contract's being terminated, plus unspecified damages for emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment. Gibert, Humphries' lawyer, disputes Smith's claims about his client's job performance, though he acknowledges his performance record is not "pristine" because Smith has been after him for some time.

Humphries says he wants his job back. And, he adds, "I'd like some compensation for what's been done."

Crotzer, the school district's lawyer, says another law firm -- Mickes, Tueth, Keeney, Cooper, Mohan & Jackstadt -- has been hired to defend the school district in the lawsuit. But he says he is confident the district will prevail. "Once it is tried, I believe it will be found that there was no foundation for the complaints in the anonymous letter and no connection between the anonymous letter and the discipline taken against Mr. Humphries."

What the Normandy School Board members think of all this isn't known, at least publicly, because for the most part, those contacted by the RFT would say little, if anything, about Smith or the letter. "We've been advised not to talk about it to anyone," says board member Irene Fowler.

"We were asked not to talk about it," says board member Frank Days.

"I don't know anything. I'm pretty sure they were investigated," says board member Esther Haywood, adding that she was not a board member when Smith was hired. "I really can't remember who, what or when. When you get to my age.... But it sounds like somebody is into something they don't know what they are talking about." Contacted a second time, Haywood says she has the "memory of an elephant, but I like to be right when I say something about somebody, and I don't have the details."

Board President Joe Collins refers questions about Smith to Crotzer, though he does say -- contrary to Ormsby's assertion -- that the board "was not aware of him fathering a child by anyone."

Missouri law largely leaves it up to local school boards to handle personnel matters involving teachers and school administrators. Several states have so-called position-of-trust laws that make it illegal for a teacher to engage in a sexual relationship with a student, even if that student is 17, beyond the age of consent. Missouri has no such law, and until two years ago, the state didn't even require criminal-background checks of its teachers.

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