Loudon Schools Case To Grand Jury

By: Stephen McLamb
By: Stephen McLamb

Loudon (WVLT) -- A Loudon County grand jury is asking the district attorney for an independent investigation into two top school officials for reckless endangerment charges.

The superintendent denies any wrongdoing but a parent presenting the case to a grand jury disagrees.

Joe Webb says school officials knew Loudon High School wasn't safe.

He alleges that they worried less about making repairs that would keep kids safe and focused more on things like heating and cooling.

The code violations prompted the state fire marshall's office to close Loudon High this year but reopened a week late.

For more than two years, school officials have been trying to get the older school up to code.

The school superintendent says he's always felt it was safe, so much so he let his own daughters attend there.

"At no time have I felt they or myself was in any danger," said Edward Headlee, Superintendent of Loudon Schools. "If I had, I would not put them or any other child in that building."

In 2005, architect Dave Wright sought to upgrade the school to code, but ended up finding more than he bargained for.

So did he think it was safe?

"At that time, no sir, Not at all," Wright said. "Again, that was one of the reasons why I went ahead and called the state fire marshall's office."

Most concerning for Wright was the lack of fire safety, especially with open stairwells.

"They were not shut off from the lower levels and if you've ever seen a chimney or a fireplace you know that smoke travels right straight up," Wright said.

Joe Webb is bringing the action before the grand jury.

He feels some school officials worked on unapproved projects like air conditioning and heating while ignoring fire safety projects.

"They not only know how bad it was, they had made commitments to address it and then simply summarily violated those commitments in favor of other priorities," Webb said.

The schools superintendent feels it wasn't a step-one-two situation.

"We had never, from day one, seen the retrofitting of the heating and air system connected to the life safety," Headlee said. "We thought they were two totally separate things.""

Headlee stopped short of calling the accusations a witch hunt, instead describing them as typical criticism.

The grand jury is expected to reconvene on the issue in December.

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