New Moore Haven principal in sexual harassment scandal

The Glades County School Board voted (4-1) this spring to hire Timothy Wilder as the new principal at Moore Haven High School.

Wilder was fired from his previous job as Superintendent over the city of Dothan, Alabama school district after a complaint of sexual harassment.

Superintendent of Glades Schools Scott Bass defended the hiring by stating that Wilder was far and above the most qualified applicant for the principal position. He emphasized he discussed Mr. Wilder’s previous job experience and fully informed the school board about the situation involved before a decision was made.

Board member Jeri Wilson was the lone dissenting vote in the decision to hire Wilder.

Wilson said she spoke up because she didn’t like the way the situation with the previous principal was handled. She said George Coates did an outstanding job and dealt well with the staff, students and parents. She complained that he had been not reappointed at the last minute.

“I have a lot of respect for Mr. Bass so it wasn’t anything personal I just felt Mr. Coates did a really nice job and that he had a lot of integrity.”

Wilson said she did research the allegations made against Mr. Wilder and gave it considerable thought. After meeting him in person, she said she came away very impressed with his leadership skills. She also felt perhaps the situation in Dothan has not been portrayed accurately.

“I think Mr. Wilder is an incredible leader and I’m in favor of him. I gave the (Dothan matter) considerable thought and I feel there may be some misinformation there,” she explained.

Coates has been hired by a small charter school in Ft. Myers. Assistant Principal Neal Cain also was not reappointed. He is working in education at a school in South Florida as well.

Bass said Mr. Wilder would be an outstanding principal and would help Moore Haven improve their graduation rate and decrease their dropout rates, two areas where the school has struggled.

“We have a lot of positive momentum going here and we’ve hired some outstanding teachers. I feel Mr. Wilder’s credentials are outstanding and without a shadow of a doubt Mr. Wilder was the most qualified candidate.”

Bass said he fully researched the situation at Dothan Schools and stated he felt there is a lot more to the story than that which has been reported by the Dothan Eagle and other media outlets.

“I felt Mr. Wilder can bring us leadership and I think he’ll be tremendous for the school,” he added.
Bass also emphasized that he told Mr. Wilder than anything unprofessional would not be tolerated. He was hired under a one year contract.

Attorney Stephen McGowan filed a breach of contract lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Wilder in May against the Dothan City School district.

Wilder was fired in November, 2014, after the districts former public relations director and grants writer, Torrie Ethridge claimed she was sexually harassed via text messages and conversations.

Wilder has denied all the allegations.

Wilder said he was very excited and honored to be the principal at Moore Haven Middle-High School. He praised his staff for their hard work and the community for the welcome he has received.

“The people of Moore Haven have welcomed me and embraced me as a new member of the community.
We want the school to be the epicenter of this community. We will share good news, we will brag about our students and staff accomplishments and we will communicate with parents and stakeholders well and often.”

Wilder said the goals of the school are simple.

“We want our students to be safe. We want to provide a culture, climate and learning environment for them that is conducive to learning,” he added.

Wilder also promised to support the employees and congratulate them on a job well done.

“I will be their biggest cheerleader and I will back them in everything they do as long as it is by the rules and when they are doing the right things.”

Wilder also wants to have students part of the decision making process. He would like the student council to be more active and become leaders in this region and the state.

“I also want Moore Haven residents to be proud of this school and what goes on inside. If we do our job, I believe people will support us in everything we do,” he added.

Moore Haven principal Timothy Wilder has sued his former employer, the Dothan, Alabama School district and claimed he was fired without cause and didn’t do anything wrong.

A former public relations employee for the school system alleged he had sexually harassed her in 2014.
Wilder was hired in May to be the principal in Moore Haven.

Attorney Steve McGowan said Mr. Wilder denies all the allegations made by the female, Torrie Ethridge, and that the school board did not follow their own procedures when they decided to fire him.

“He filed the litigation not to get his job back but to show he hasn’t done anything wrong,” McGowan remarked, “The school board has a policy in place to protect their employees, and they didn’t follow procedures. It was basically a mock hearing.”

Mr. McGowan said the allegations were baseless and unfounded and that his client has gone to quite an expense, both financial and emotional, in an effort to clear his name.

He expects the litigation to go to a jury trial within six months.

McGowan was a former member of the School Board and said he was very impressed with the job Mr. Wilder did while employed in Alabama.

“He was one of the finest superintendents we ever had. Our grades and test scores went up and the district excelled while he was employed here,” he added.

McGowan said his client didn’t have the opportunity to properly defense himself at the hearing.

Wilder was accused of sexually harassing Ethridge via text messages and conversations.

The litigation filed in Houston County Circuit Court, names the entire City Board of Education which includes Dr. Harry W. Parrish, Brenda Guilford, Franklin Jones, Melanie Hill, Jimmy Addison, Ben Armstrong and Chris Maddox.

It alleged that the defendants breached the contractual duty of good faith and fair dealing towards Mr. Wilder and without authority terminated his employment contract. It also alleged Mr. Wilder was fired against Board policy and procedure and was not given a reasonable opportunity to defend himself.

It went on to state that Mr. Wilder was terminated on the mere allegation of misconduct and without a full and fair investigation required by board policy. The litigation stated it was an arbitrary act and an improper exercise of authority.

The litigation asks for compensation and punitive damages, and a ruling that Mr. Wilder’s rights to due process were violated.

Special to Glades County Democrat

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