SETTING IT STRAIGHT: Ryal Public Schools Superintendent Scot Trower is currently suspended with pay. Trower's employment status was reported incorrectly in a story on Page 9A.
EUFAULA — The former superintendent of tiny Ryal Public Schools is suing the district and three board members, claiming the school board terminated him during a “sham” meeting that grossly violated the state’s Open Meetings Act.
Scot Trower, who had headed up the district since 2011, asked a court to give him a fair hearing, claiming the one that resulted in his recent termination was biased and unfair.
A McIntosh County judge granted Trower’s request Tuesday. The fired administrator will have a hearing April 9 before the judge.
Trower was fired after comments he made to The Oklahoman for a story that ran in February angered many of the community’s residents.
In the article, the superintendent described the district’s students as children of poverty — some of them fourth-generation.
The lawsuit filed by Trower’s attorney accuses three board members of stifling the former administrator’s free speech by terminating his contract.
Board members Robert Bennett, Jason Harjo and Michael Winap also are named in the lawsuit.
Richard O’Carroll, an attorney representing Trower, wrote in the suit that Bennett and Harjo appointed Winap to a seat on the board as an angry crowd demanded action.
O’Carroll wrote in the suit that Bennett and Harjo were “intimidated” by some school district patrons attending the March 4 meeting and named Winap as a board member even though Winap “had been very outspoken against Mr. Trower and had called for his resignation.”
“The same evening, these three people immediately met in an unscheduled executive session where they discussed Mr. Trower’s employment,” the attorney wrote. “At that time, it was determined that Mr. Trower should be terminated from the school district.”
During a special school board meeting held the next week, Trower was terminated but no reasons were made public.
Comments hurt some
During a six-hour interview with a reporter from The Oklahoman in February, Trower commented that many of the students in his former district don’t eat unless they are at school, and many of their families don’t value education.
“Their families don’t see a need for an education past the eighth grade,” Trower said in February. “How do you get past that?”
Trower also made comments about high levels of drug addiction, alcoholism and other criminal behavior while driving near an area called Ryal Bottoms, where many of the district’s students live.
Bennett, the school board president, said many of the district’s parents were angered by Trower’s comments.
“The story portrayed the Ryal community in a very negative light,” Bennett said after the March 4 school board meeting. “The vast majority of our kids live in houses with electricity. They do have shoes. Their parents do work.
“Lots of our students go on to be schoolteachers, doctors, lawyers and professionals.”