Candidate accuses Ag program of 'cheating'

Published on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 00:00 - Written by Kenneth Dean, kdean@tylerpaper.com

WHITEHOUSE — A man with hopes of taking a Whitehouse ISD school board seat in the May elections defends his years’ long allegations and complaints against the district’s AG/Mechanics program at the high school.

Hank Gilbert, who has filed for Seat 3 on the school board, admits he has filed numerous complaints and objections against the Whitehouse High School’s Agriculture program including allegations of cheating, use of tobacco products by students and disapproval of the agriculture teacher, the principal and the district’s superintendent.

“Cheating is cheating, and as a former teacher, I cannot stand by and just let this happen and me not say a word.

Gilbert, who ran unsuccessfully for Texas Agricultural Commissioner in 2010, said he has proof the school’s agriculture teacher is performing a lot of the students’ projects, which are then taken to competitions where they face other students’ projects.

He also shared photos of a student’s trailer being backed into a professional paint shop and of an instructor welding on the project.

“Basically the school is paying for sponsored projects for competition,” he said.

Gilbert has traveled to several shows where he has filed complaints with the governing bodies, however he was recently told the painting is allowed and the rules are not clear on how much assistance a student can receive.

An open records request filed by the Tyler Morning Telegraph with the district was answered by Superintendent Daniel Dupree, who not only filled the request by sharing the public complaints, but also talked about the complaints and how he feels they have put a black cloud over the program and unfairly targeted the teacher and students.

‘The teacher welding on a project, especially that of say a trailer where safety is an issue, is allowed in the contest and is for instructional purposes and to teach the students why these welds are so crucial,” Dupree said.

Dupree noted Gilbert filed a level one complaint Jan. 14, which is on the campus level, stating a teacher’s welding on a project “does not bode well with the educational process.”

However, just a few days later, Gilbert withdrew the complaint.

Asked how many informal complaints by Gilbert he has responded to, Dupree said, “It’s just countless. I couldn’t even, I mean I just couldn’t. It is taking a lot of time to deal with these, but it is part of the process.”

Dupree said Gilbert has even filed complaints about school administrators, school board members and even the superintendent himself.

Gilbert said the agriculture program, which includes the local chapter of the Future Farmers of America, did not even participate in competitions when his son was a student.

“I had to pay for my son to travel to different locations to compete and they didn’t even compete until they were made to start taking part,” he said.

Gilbert has used Facebook and a local weekly newspaper, where he has paid for advertisements including one called FFA 101.

In the advertisement, Gilbert talks about the competitions, the “cheating” and the use of tobacco products.

“It really doesn’t surprise me though,” Gilbert wrote in the advertisement. “The same kinds of things have been happening ever since they hired the current superintendent, and the current school board has consented time and time again to his practices.”

Dupree said the constant barrage of accusations against the program has been hurtful. He has also asked the high school principal to investigate Gilbert’s claims of tobacco use.

However, photos sent to the school and to the Telegraph, show a student, but do not indicate the student is using tobacco.

“I know it is affecting our employees, it is affecting our students and that is because of the constant bombardment of it all, because of the public nature that all of this is presented through various means,” he said.

Dupree said he is concerned photos are being taken of his students while on campus and while off campus.

Gilbert said he wants the public to understand he will fight against improprieties, but he is for the students.

“I’ve reiterated time after time that this is not the fault of the students, but the fault of the teachers running the program and the school,” he said.

Dupree said the school’s legal counsel is being kept abreast of the developments, but could not say if any legal actions might be taken in the future.

“We have consulted with our attorney on when certain statements become libelous and slanderous. We are trying to do the best we can to balance what we are allowed to do,” Dupree said. “We are a public school, public school officials, public school employees.”

He said he respects the “liberties of this land that give all individuals the right to express themselves in the way that they do.”

Dupree said the district is trying to find where you draw the line on statements that could be “demoralizing or demeaning to people’s integrity. Their livelihoods have been challenged though continuous complaints. I hate it for our employees to have to endure this, but I do applaud that I am in a free country.”