Education

Superintendent denies bribery charge; report says he asked officer for a ‘solid’

Franklin County Schools Superintendent Mark Kopp, indicted Tuesday on attempted bribery charges, allegedly asked a deputy sheriff to do him a “solid” favor in connection with a charge against Bondurant Middle School Principal Whitney Allison, a sheriff’s office report obtained under the Kentucky Open Records Act said.

Board chairman Natalie Lile said the Franklin County School board met in closed session for more than an hour Friday and, based on the information board members had, unanimously decided not to take any action against Kopp. Lile said members considered the law enforcement report, a written statement from Kopp’s attorneys, and discussions with the board attorney.

Kopp’s attorneys Tom Miller and Elliott Miller said in a statement to the board that Kopp has not committed a crime, will not consider a guilty plea and will ask in Franklin District Court that the charge be dismissed.

Allison, the former principal of Lexington’s Winburn Middle School, was indicted as well Tuesday for failure to report child neglect or abuse , according to Franklin Court records. Franklin Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Zachary Becker said Wednesday that the charges against Kopp and Allison were related to a sexual abuse investigation involving a former teacher at Bondurant Middle School. Allison’s attorney Fred Peters told the Herald-Leader this week that she denied the allegations and would plead not guilty.

The former teacher, Todd Joseph Smith, was indicted Tuesday on two counts of first-degree sexual abuse, according to court records. One of those was alleged to have occurred in 2018 and the most recent in March 2019.

Franklin County Attorney Rick Sparks on Friday released to the Herald-Leader a redacted report written by Franklin Sheriff’s Deputy Montey Chappell that outlined meetings with Kopp and Allison in March and one with Kopp in June. At the time, Chappell was a school resource officer, Becker said. The Frankfort State Journal reported that Chappell is now head of Franklin County courthouse security.

According to the report, after Chappell explained to Kopp at a June meeting that there was a “failure to report,” issue, Kopp became angry, and said, “This is bulls---, now we are going to lose a principal over this and I don’t believe the teacher did it! I think he might be weird or strange but this is bulls---.

Kopp told Chappell that Allison was one of the district’s best principals and said, “I am going to go to bat for her and do what it takes!” the report said.

Chappell said in the report that in earlier, unrelated conversations, Chappell had expressed concerns to Kopp about hiring a specific person as a school resource officer supervisor.

Chappell’s report said that in the June meeting that led to Kopp’s criminal charge, Kopp indicated that he would not make the hire, and implied that Chappell should make the investigation involving Allison go away because Kopp did a favor for Chappell by not making the hire.

Chappell said in the report that Kopp told him, “I am doing you a solid, now I need you to do me a solid.”

Chappell’s report also said that in a March 2019 meeting, when he told Allison about the allegations against the teacher who was charged with sexual abuse, she said, “Yeah, I heard something about this and had started to look into it.”

Smith was placed on paid leave that day. His contract was not renewed this school year, Becker has said.

Kopp’s attorneys statement to the school board said that the criminal charges against Kopp “are totally without merit”, that he met legal requirements and that there was no need for the school board to take action against him.

The attorneys’ statement said that Allison received a report from a student accusing a teacher of grabbing her bottom in a classroom full of students on March 14, 2019. The statement said she immediately began to investigate and determined she needed more information before she decided whether a report of sexual abuse needed to be made because she had received conflicting versions of what happened.

Kopp thought the additional investigation was appropriate. On March 15, the attorneys’ statement said, Chappell told Kopp that there was another allegation that the same teacher had inappropriately touched another student in October 2018. Kopp and Human Resources Director Holly Adkins immediately went to meet with Allison, the statement said and they met with Chappell. The requirements of reporting the abuse were met that day, the attorneys statement said.

There is no way to construe the statements that Kopp made to Chappell that could be taken as an intent to influence Chappell’s action, the attorneys’ statement said. At the time of the conversation, the matter regarding Allison had already been presented to a grand jury, according to the statement.

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