Former WCS Teacher Allegedly ‘Bullied,’ ‘Targeted’ Before Resignation

A petition in support of a former Walnut Grove Elementary teacher, who recently resigned, has gained support from the community and the circumstances of her departure may become the subject of a lawsuit against the Williamson County School District.

VIEW THE PETITION HERE

Melanie Lemon was a 2nd-grade teacher at Walnut Grove Elementary School for the past seven years. She handed in her letter of resignation on May 12, effective May 24, after a series of incidents in which she felt “bullied” by the administration. Lemon resigned to “get the administration to back off and leave her alone,” she said. Lemon said she was bullied to the point of resignation by the administration and that it had been ongoing for most of the 2016-17 school year.

The most recent on record incident leading to Lemon’s resignation was an investigation that led to a three-day suspension for the elementary school teacher in April. The investigation came about after an alleged incident involving a parent’s complaint that Lemon pushed their child’s arms down and/or grabbed their wrist and said “stop it” before a play on March 9, according to a Williamson County Schools report. The investigation resulted in a formal reprimand and Lemon was reinstated on April 24. She was put under video monitoring in her classroom with a teacher monitor also sitting in to watch her in the classroom.

A letter of suspension by the WCS Superintendent Dr. Looney to Lemon states that she said she did not specifically remember touching the student at the alleged time. But she said she could have put her hands on the student’s shoulders to redirect the student because that is something she often did with this student. She said saying “stop it” would also not be unusual with this student.

Lemon said that touching students is a normal part of managing elementary-aged students at times, and unremarkable one at that. She said that the administration took the parent at their word and that its investigation was disingenuous and ignored many potential witnesses who would have been present to see the alleged incident.

UPDATE: MELANIE LEMON FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST WCS

Support from Parents & Teachers

The petition started on May 14th and within 36 hours surpassed its goal of 1,500 signatures. As of the writing of this story, 1,822 people have signed the petition. The petition was presented to the Williamson County School Board on May 15 at its regular meeting to highlight Lemon’s alleged mistreatment.

Supporters of Lemon dressed in black and spoke on her behalf at the meeting. Supporters included former students, parents and co-workers. Each person in the public comment part of these meetings is given three minutes to speak. Lemon’s supporters read from a prepared statement in relay form, which Lemon assisted in preparing.

shirlee bowden
Shirlee Bowden

The first to speak was Shirlee Bowden, who taught at Walnut Grove from its inception in 1990 until her retirement two years ago, and taught with Lemon for several years.

“Superintendent Dr. Looney took me out in the hallway before I spoke and wanted to nicely tell me that the board is not in charge of personnel and hiring and firing, but he knows what I am going to say.  I worked in WCS for nearly 30 years until two years ago, and I don’t have anybody I want you to hire or fire. I just want to talk about something that you might not be aware of,” Bowden said to the school board.

She has since talked to the Williamson Source, explaining that she feels Lemon was bullied at her job.

Bowden Alleges Intimidation by WCS Superintendent

“Be Nice might be the schools’ slogan, but it is not what happened with Melanie Lemon,” she said. “She was bullied by her bosses over the year and targeted and this was an opportunity to find a reason to force her out. This ‘be nice’ campaign is kind of humorous. because your administration operates on a bully system. They do it with the nicest voices.”

In a recorded interview with the Williamson Source, Bowden alleged that Dr. Looney threatened Lemon’s career:

“He [Dr. Looney] came and tapped me on the shoulder and took me outside,” Bowden said. “And he said, ‘I know what is going on. I followed it on social media. You just need to know that the Board has no jurisdiction over hiring and firing.’  I said, ‘I know that.'”

“He [Dr. Looney] said, ‘Melanie Lemon will never teach in Williamson County again.’ I said, ‘She doesn’t want to.’ And then he said, ‘If you go through with this, she will never teach in the state of Tennessee again.'”

When asked if she believes Dr. Looney’s intent was to intimidate her to prevent her from speaking before the board, Bowden said, “Yes, of course.”

Bowden said she has written the Board a letter letting them know what the superintendent told her before she spoke at the meeting.

Watch Public Comments from Lemon Supporters at WCS Board Meeting:

Excerpts from Public Comment at WCS Board Meeting

“She was the kind of teacher you wanted your kids to have. She possesses compassion, is knowledgeable and funny, a loving kind of teacher that students invite to graduations, high school and college, their weddings, their baby showers. Kids at the ball field see her and run over with open arms to hug her,” Bowden said. “She is a hugger. She went into school every day excited for the opportunity to interact with her students.”

“Melanie had a horrid year, and you did not get the full story,” Bowden told the board. After Bowden spoke, Jeremy Spillman, a parent, spoke next.

Jeremy Spillman speaking at WCS Board meeting on May 15

Spillman outlined Lemon’s side of the story. He said that after a disagreement that occurred between Lemon and current Walnut Grove Principal Kate Donnelly in the early part of the 2016-17 school year, Lemon spent the rest of the school year “feeling bullied” by the administration and from that point on she felt “targeted.”

“At an open house event in August, Melanie sought the principal’s help for some parents who needed help with their child,” Spillman said. “It was turned around to make Melanie feel like she did something to upset the parent. She tried to face the situation head on by telling the principal how she felt, but the principal did not seem interested in how Melanie felt.”

“Several meetings were held in which Melanie tried to explain how she felt unsupported. They were fruitless. Instead, Melanie was bullied,” Spillman said.

“I know you haven’t heard this because teachers and staff are afraid to come out and stand up for themselves. They fear retaliation,” Spillman told the board.

Spillman outlined another incident that occurred after the August open house, in which he claims Lemon was bullied again.

After finding out a fellow teacher’s child had leukemia, Lemon and two other teachers decided to “do a fundraiser outside of school selling t-shirts,” he said.

Lemon was asked to get a list of t-shirt sizes needed so that they could be ordered for students. She went to the school bookkeeper and got the list, which listed sizes but not names, Spillman said.

“The principal called Melanie into her office and berated her for doing this, citing privacy laws,” he said. “But since she did not divulge any private information she didn’t realize and privacy laws were violated.

She was also told, Spillman said, that the school could not be involved in a fundraiser. So Lemon and other teachers started a private Facebook page to continue the effort.

“The principal again called her into her office and told her this was illegal,” he said. “Other teachers were not reprimanded . . .  Melanie only felt she was coming to the aid of a friend. For this, she was bullied.”

It is not clear whether Lemon’s actions regarding her fundraising efforts would be illegal or not; the personnel and disciplinary records on Lemon given to the Williamson Source by WCS include no mention of this incident.

Response from Williamson County School District

The school district gave the Williamson Source the following statement:

“On May 2, Dr. Looney communicated his concerns to Mrs. Lemon that she was leaving her students unattended in the classroom as well as spending too much time on the computer. On May 12, Mrs. Lemon resigned effective May 24. We understand she has now hired an attorney. If she and her attorney somehow try to litigate her resignation, we will aggressively defend Williamson County Schools.”

The Williamson Source is following additional developments in this story and interview with Melanie Lemon, and will provide further updates as warranted.

READ ALSO: MELANIE LEMON FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST WCS

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17 COMMENTS

  1. These swift, one-sided actions taken by the administration are just one of the many downfalls of our current public education system. How can a school system attract competent, well-educated teachers, who are dedicated to their profession, if they immediately take the administration’s side and bully their staff? They cannot. Dr. Looney’s actions before the meeting, noted by the Williamson Source, are just another example of the silencing and bullying of teachers.

    I doubt Dr. Looney has had the pleasure of being in the presence or classroom of Mrs. Lemon. If he had, he would have seen what so many former students, parents and colleagues noted on the petition and Facebook sites. Mrs. Melanie Lemon is a blessing to those who know her and has certainly made an impact of hundreds of lives. The statements made are a testament to the teacher she was and is.

    I am truly disappointed with how the system has chosen to handle this, and I hope Mrs. Lemon fights back. She may not be able to teach at Walnut Grove or in Williamson County, but any local private school would be lucky to have someone with her character and dedication, as well as her desire for her students to learn on their staff.

  2. Unfortunately, I’m not surprised. I worked at Walnut Grove for one year and left because of the treatment by administration. Kate Donnelly is a wolf in sheeps clothing. She’s capable of this and much more. I personally know Melanie and I know she would never do anything that they’ve claimed. My prayers are with her family.

  3. Of course, there are multiple sides to a story. I have no doubt Mrs. Lemon was loved by her students, but I do question her professionalism in some actions as reported. It is inappropriate to solicit student personal info., names or not. Hands on students is likewise inappropriate, for no one can second-guess how a student will receive the action. I taught for 35 years; although there is heavy emotionalism in this case, there also are concerns, if this report is accurate. I hope Mrs. Lemon can find a teaching position more aligned with her heart…maybe a private school where there is more personal investment and interaction. I suspect she would be wonderfully welcomed in that setting.

    • “I hope Mrs. Lemon can find a teaching position more aligned with her heart…maybe a private school where there is more personal investment and interaction.”

      WHY, YES… heaven forbid there be any personal investment and interaction in our public schools.

      You should spend 2 minutes with Melanie.

      • It is very sad that today we consider gathering information to help someone inappropriate. WHO CARES ABOUT SHIRT SIZES! I wear an XL, my daughter a medium, my son a small… really Williamson county you should be helping her to help others! You should be using all your resources to help the other teacher in need! I know you won’t do that, but really that is the way it should be done! If they are part of your “community” you should be part of the help not a threat to it.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head “maybe a private school where there is more personal investment and interaction.” It’s certainly sad that this is what the teaching profession is becoming. All kids need to be invested in and know people care about them; however, it would be scary to teach at this school for fear that actions meant for good could be so easily misinterpreted. I mean child abuse…absurd!

  4. Why is there at least a “no comment” from the Walnut Grove principal, who (apparently) was involved in the teacher’s career on a daily basis ? … incomplete reporting …

  5. Wow. Most of you commenting here take this article and devour it as THE whole and complete truth. There is more to this story. I know parents who pulled their kids out of walnut grove because they got “stuck” with Mrs lemon as a teacher. She has a reputation and it was not a good one. Do your research before jumping on the band wagon. I am glad I don’t have to worry about her being my child’s teacher this fall…

    • I’d love to hear from those parents, Pam. Numerous parents of children Melanie has had in class as well as former students have come forward with nothing but glowing reports. It seems that a significant majority were pretty happy to be “stuck” with such a great and respected teacher. Maybe it is you who needs to get the rest of the story.

      • Lee, maybe we aren’t coming forward because people like you who will bully us for expressing an opinion opposite of yours… I gathered my opinion on the first hand experience of a friend. I have read the articles covering Mrs. Lemon’s ordeal. I’m sure there is wrong to be seen on both sides but equally sure that Mrs. Lemon is not an innocent teacher being reprimanded for no reason whatsoever.

  6. The superintendent should be held at least as accountable as the teachers. He is the one who needs the video surveillance.

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