Frances Danger/Mvskoke Media Contributor
MORRIS, Oklahoma – Editor’s note: this story includes graphic and disturbing information about sexual misconduct and physical abuse.
*It is the policy of Mvskoke Media not to identify children under the age of 18. We also respect the right of anonymity for our sources. For this reason there are pseudonyms used throughout this piece. When a pseudonym is used it is marked by an asterisk.
Keisha Hammons Hill, a former High School Special Education teacher at Morris is not associated with this article. She left her position in order to take care of ailing family.
Morris High School, still shaken from the revelations about abuse suffered by students at the hands of ISD Monitor Clayton Swem, is now patrolled by a security guard. According to students and parents more stories have surfaced both in the halls and on social media platforms with other instances of misconduct and administration malfeasance allegations.
Among the new instances that have come to light is another incident involving ISD Monitor Swem. Jamie Goodnight is the parent of a 9th grade student who had an interaction with Mr. Swem two years ago when they were in 7th grade. The Middle School student was asked to deliver some papers to the ISD room at the High School. According to Ms. Goodnight when the student, along with a classmate, entered the room Mr. Swem asked her “What have you got, herpes?”
According to the student the other students in the ISD class looked up and though the student did not know what herpes was, they felt uncomfortable. When they left the high school and returned to their classroom they told the teacher Ashley Daniels, at the time Pendley, what Swem said. Ms. Daniels told the student she needed to tell their mother.
The student reported it to her mother who met with the Middle School Principal Heather Adams the next day. She reiterated what her child experienced. According to the mother, Adams stated that the matter would be handled internally. When Goodnight asked if she would know the outcome Adams told her that since the matter was internal, she would not be able to disclose any action that might be taken. This was not an isolated incident of a report being made about Swem’s conduct that the Morris School District would decide to handle internally.
According to Goodnight’s child ever since the incident was reported Goodnight’s child was subjected to Mr. Swem glaring at them across the lunchroom. Swem also found reasons to walk behind them in the cafeteria in a manner that made the child feel intimidated.
Goodnight went on to state that at no time during the instance with Swem was Title IX mentioned nor were supportive measures offered to the parent or student. Goodnight’s experience revealed the same neglect of Title IX protocols as Natalie Parker’s complaint.
According to both a parent and a student Swem has not been back to the school since publication of “Can I pull your hair?”. Superintendent Dr. Chris Karch said he could not confirm if Swem was still an MSD employee.
The assertions about inappropriate behavior involving faculty does not stop there. It was reported that Algebra Teacher Daryl Sellers watched pornographic material on his phone while students were taking a test. These accounts include a student who asked Sellers what he was watching, resulting in the student receiving a 0 on the test. Principal Kevin Younger, hired to replace Bucky Ewton, dismissed the reports of pornography in the classroom. While it is District policy not to confirm employment status when contacted by Mvskoke Media, the High School willingly took a message for Sellers.
Perhaps the most disturbing incident involves the reported allegation of physical abuse of a Mvskoke Nation citizen, nonverbal special needs student by a paraprofessional, or “para” as they are more commonly known, assigned to his class.
An anonymous letter was sent to Superintendent Dr. Chris Karch on November 17, 2019 regarding an incident with a child we will call Sam*, a child whose identity we are protecting as they are still attending the school. The incident took place on Friday November 15th, 2019 around 1:00 p.m. in the Special Education room of Morris Elementary.
Sam was in a rocking chair with para–Ms. H*. He was trying to get up and away from Ms. H. According to the letter, Ms. H had her legs pinning Sam in and was roughly pushing his head back and forth causing him to scream. Neither the special education teacher nor the other two paras in the room did anything to stop this. This went on for over an hour. There is video of the incident that the report maintains was accidentally recorded.
According to the partial Incident Report the school district provided June that was also reviewed by Mvskoke Media, the Morris School District maintains they began an immediate investigation and enacted measures to provide additional training of Special Education staff to ensure a safe learning environment. In that report dated December 2, 2019, the District states it contacted local law enforcement, the Special Education Director, and the certified classroom teacher immediately to let them know an investigation had begun.
The district failed to contact June*, Sam’s mother, regarding both the incident and the investigation. Per her child’s advocate any time a situation like this arises the parent(s) are to be provided with an Incident Report. No such report was made available to her at that time according to June.
June would not be made aware of the incident or investigation until August 2021, when she received a letter, not from the Morris School District but from an anonymous sender stating that there had been complaints and calls to the hotline during the 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 school years regarding Ms. H and her treatment of Sam. The letter details that Sam was slapped in the face and hands and jerked around by Ms. H. Her actions were described as severe, harmful, and abusive. The letter goes on to state that it would be dangerous for her to continue to be his para for the coming school year.
June contacted Lighthorse Police and spoke with a Sgt. Johnson, who took a report. She provided him with the letter. She was informed that she would be contacted regarding the issue but never heard back. When contacted Lighthorse Police Chief Richard Phillips declined comment and referred questions to Mvskoke Nation Press Secretary Jason Salsman. A message was left for Mr. Salsman but we have not received a response as of press time.
June also sought legal counsel as she was afraid to send her son back to school. Her concerns were dismissed as they did not involve Dallas Tyler Ewton.
June attempted to contact Superintendent Dr. Chris Karch on August 2, 2021 via phone. When he did not call her back, she resorted to email. June had a phone meeting with the school scheduled for August 3, 2021 and Dr. Karch responded, asking if he could sit in at the meeting.
When the meeting concluded he asked June to remain on the line. She asked the superintendent if the incident had indeed happened at which point Dr. Karch responded, “Yes. I hate to have dropped the ball on you. There was an investigation by the Morris Police Department.”
According to Dr. Karch Morris PD reportedly came to the school and conducted an investigation. Karch also informed June that the para was still employed at the school so he could not release her name. When asked why she was not informed, June said, “We were told by Dr. Karch ‘I’m sorry. We dropped the ball on you, I don’t know why you weren’t informed.””
After a flurry of emails spanning over the course of a few days June did finally obtain the incident report. Though she had asked for all Incident Reports for her son she was only sent the report involved in the investigation. A jump drive, which contained the video of the incident, was not provided despite being listed as part of the report.
June has not been able to view the video of the incident despite contacting Morris Police Department, whose Police Chief Tim Bell, referred her to Lighthorse Police, the department he claimed was now covering the matter.
When contacted by Mvskoke Media, Morris Police Chief Bell stated while he was aware of the incident he was not involved. This runs counter to what June asserts happened as Chief Bell referred her to the Lighthorse Police.
During the conversation with Bell, he suggested June contact the District Attorney, who he stated now has the report and the video. When contacted, the District Attorney was unaware of any investigation involving Morris Police Department and June’s son.
On February 21, 2022 June spoke with Investigator Robert Jackson of the Lighthorse Police Department. She reiterated Sam’s story and, according to June, Lighthorse is now opening an investigation.
Despite Superintendent Dr. Karch’s refusals to give June detailed information as to the investigation, she was pressured by Ms. H via social media to tell her if she had found out who had sent the anonymous letters yet, stating she wished she could find out who it was as the person was constantly doing that (reporting) her.
On July 29, 2021 Ms. H announced her resignation in a social media post that read “To the person who is out to get me…YOU WIN! I’m broken and embrassed (sic) for having the cops show up to my door with my children in my hand on our way to my 100th dr visit this summer. To the person who is out to get me…YOU WIN I resigned from Morris Public Schools and will be home this year. To the person who is out to get me… YOU WIN!!!” Ms. H stepped down for the 2021/2022 school year.
In a separate incident not involving Ms. H, Sam came home on the school bus with a bloodied ear and a scratch that extended from just below his earlobe almost to his shoulder. In a text message to June, the then Special Education teacher Robin Walters informed her that, “I showed dad this morning and told him about it so I didn’t write it down. He was getting very aggressive and we were trying to keep him from biting us. I’m assuming one of us scratched him when reaching for his head to prevent the biting. I apologized to dad and showed him.”
June requested an Incident Report which she received a week later. The report did not match what Walters initially texted June, instead attributing some of the injuries as being self-inflicted.
The report read, in part, “student was scratched by staff member accidentally. Injury resulted in superficial scratch to neck approximately 1.5 inches on his ear – right side of neck. There were also 2 scratch marks on ear, self inflicted by student during aggressive outbursts.”
As of today, June has been unable to obtain a copy of the video or the police report from Morris School District, Morris Police Department, the District Attorney, or Lighthorse Police.
On February 14th, 2022 the Morris School District released a statement, reprinted here in full:
Morris Public Schools is committed to providing a safe learning environment for its students. It is the policy of MPS to immediately investigate allegations of misconduct and take immediate action when necessary to protect our students. MPS will offer assistance to any student who might be impacted by alleged misconduct and will coordinate with the student’s family to ensure the student has the resources to move forward with their educational opportunities. MPS policies and procedures will be followed regarding the reporting, investigation and resolution of any allegations of misconduct by an employee of the district. The School District cannot directly comment on confidential student information; however, the MPS has investigated all Title IX complaints filed within the past year according to its policies and federal guidelines. MPS has hired an external decision maker from the list of approved decision makers provided by the Oklahoma Board of Regents in an effort to be comprehensive in the handling of these matters, and fair to all parties involved.
All Title IX related policies and procedures have been reviewed and updated to ensure the school district is providing a safe environment for students and staff. The policies are available on the school district’s website and they are contained within the Morris Student Handbook and the Morris Teacher Handbook. The school district will continue to take all investigations seriously and follow legal policy. MPS welcomes input from our stakeholders concerning the priority of providing a safe and secure learning environment.
MPS has complied with state law regarding background checks of its staff which is monitored annually by the Oklahoma State Department of Education. On December 9, 2021, the Board of Education adopted a new policy related to background checks to improve upon existing school district procedures. The new policy addresses the following:
- MPS will require, for each school district employee, regardless of when they were hired, to have both an Oklahoma criminal history record check and a national criminal history record check on file.
- MPS will conduct, for each school district employee, an annual name search against the Oklahoma Sex Offenders Registry and the Mary Rippy Violent Crime Offenders Registry.
While the statement seemingly addresses issues raised by the previously published Mvskoke Media piece, the Title IX incident involving Natalie Parker clearly shows that policies were not followed as there was no Title IX policy in place posted on the Morris School District website. If there had been then Superintendent Dr Chris Karch wouldn’t have asked Marissa Lewis, Natalie Parker’s mother, to help write one.
After being told by Principal Bucky Ewton that he’d put her daughter in the same room as Mr. Swem to resolve the situation despite Lewis’ request that her daughter be released to go home Ms. Lewis immediately went to the high school and had a meeting with Principal Bucky Ewton and Guidance Counselor Kristy Walker. During that meeting they continued to make excuses for Swem’s comments. When Lewis asked about Title IX protections for her daughter neither Principal Ewton nor Counselor Walker knew about Title IX or the protections it legally guarantees students attending schools that accept federal funding. As to Title IX, according to Lewis, Ewton stated, “We don’t have to follow the same rules here.”
According to Ms. Lewis in addition to having no knowledge of Title IX, Principal Ewton and Counselor Walker were also unable to state any district policy that should be followed in cases such as Natalie Parker. As the school staff was unaware of any policies there could be no way for them to have implemented them. That includes Title IX.
Meanwhile Natalie Parker was still at school, not having been released to go home as her mother instructed. She’d informed one of her teachers, Ms. B* about the incident with Swem. The teacher dismissed it as a joke. Later, as the gravity of what happened became clearer, Ms. B apologized to Parker and Lewis in person, stating she had not received any Title IX training and apologized for not recognizing the incident for what it was.
Frustrated, Lewis collected her daughter and left the school. The next day, April 27, 2021, Lewis called Superintendent Dr. Karch and left a voicemail. She received no call back. Lewis called the next day and spoke with Superintendent Karch. She informed him of what had happened with Swem and how it had been mishandled by the High School staff. Dr. Karch had not been informed and was hearing of it for the first time from Lewis.
Dr. Karch and Ms. Lewis scheduled an in-person meeting for April 27, 2021 at 1 p.m. At that meeting Lewis again reiterated what happened with her daughter, at which point Dr. Karch asked her what she wanted him to do. She directed him to the federal Title IX policies and procedures. Lewis also asked two times for a copy of the Title IX policies and procedures at which point Karch told Lewis he could not locate the Title IX policy because he’d never had to use it before. He also stated that at the time Morris school district had zero Title IX complaints. This despite the numerous incidents detailed that would have qualified as complaints that the coordinator should have been informed of. He then asked Lewis for help writing the Title IX policies and procedures for the Morris Public School System. After she refused, Karch informed her that she would receive a copy once any policy had been reviewed by attorneys. He did provide her with a copy of the Sexual Harassment policy. Lewis ended the meeting by informing him that Parker wanted to file a formal complaint.
The Sexual Harassment policy in place at the time states that when a student reports an incident of sexual harassment it must then be reported to the Title IX Coordinator, supportive measures offered to protect the student, and an explanation of the process given. The Title IX Coordinator would then provide the paperwork to file a formal Title IX complaint. Principal Ewton did not report the issue to the Title IX Coordinator, who would be named days later as Dr. Karch, nor were any supportive measures offered until April 30, nor the process explained to Lewis and Parker.
Natalie Parker filed a formal complaint on April 29, 2021. The complaint was to be forwarded to the Title IX coordinator who would appoint a complaint Investigator and Decision Maker to investigate the complaint. Dr. Karch was appointed Title IX Coordinator. Morris Middle School Principal Heather Adams, who had previously failed to report the Swem “herpes” complaint, was named Investigator and Elementary School Principal Becky Alexander, who was principal at the time of the investigation into the physical assault of Sam, was appointed Decision Maker. The first and only Title IX training they received at that time was on May 4, 2021, five days after Parker had filed the complaint. The investigation began on May 5.
After interviewing Parker, Investigator Adams forwarded the evidence to Decision Maker Becky Alexander who on May 20 determined the incident did not meet the definition of sexual harassment as defined by the United States Department of Education for purposes of Title IX and as such dismissed the complaint. The report did state that a recommendation would be made to Superintendent Dr. Karch that the situation be handled as a personnel matter that may warrant disciplinary action, continuing the practice of handling issues such as these in-house.
Parker filed an appeal on May 27, 2021 which was handled by Attorney Doug Mann. Mann is a previous employee of Rosenstein, Fist, and Ringold, the law firm that represents Morris School District.
On September 7, 2021 Parker’s appeal was dismissed by Mann.
Title IX complaints do not necessarily have to go through the school. The Office of Civil Rights, a federal agency, also handles Title IX complaints. This information should have been disclosed to Lewis and Parker. However they did not learn of it until September 9, 2021, at which point they filed a complaint with the OCR.
June, Sam’s mother, filed a complaint with the OCR on February 15, 2022.
The Office of Civil Rights has opened investigations into the Morris School District for both complaints.