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School Board candidate banned from schools

Randy Ward Randy Ward

Randy Ward has been shooting pictures of high school sports and other extracurricular activities for 25 years in his native Henderson County.

But what he described as an April Fool’s Facebook message sent to a former student last spring started of a series of complaints that school administrators say they have received and that School Board members say they have been made aware of, according to the woman, school administrators and School Board members.

School officials say Ward received an oral no-trespass directive at a meeting on Sept. 21 banning him from school campuses. But school officials have not enforced the ban and never issued a written order to Ward.
“Am I being banned? No,” Ward, a candidate for School Board, said in an interview Monday. “I’ve got no letter. I’ve never had nothing.”

In response to a public records request from the Hendersonville Lightning, Henderson County Schools Superintendent Bo Caldwell released a statement last week.

“In a meeting at my office on Sept. 21, 2017, Mr. Ward received a no-trespass directive in person,” Caldwell wrote. “This directive applies to all Henderson County Public Schools buildings, grounds, parking lots, roads and walkways, during and after school hours, including extra-curricular functions. As is always the case, such directives may be reviewed and reconsidered one year from the date of the notification, at the written request of the banned individual.”


Letter never sent

Administrators never sent Ward a letter, Caldwell said, nor did they think it was necessary to take the matter to the School Board.

“When we have situation arise at a school campus that we feel like it’s best for that person not to be on the school grounds, that is the superintendent’s job,” Caldwell said. “That is an administrative job to handle that. That doesn’t reach the board level.”

As for Ward’s recollection that the School Board would take it up, Caldwell said that didn’t happen. “As far as Randy, we sat and talked with him,” he said. “Sometimes it’s better to talk in person rather than send a letter.”

Some School Board members were aware of the complaints and some weren’t.

“I was not (aware of it) until I was made aware of it” by another board member, said Lisa Edwards.  Board member Rick Wood said he’d never heard of the Ward situation until questioned about it this week by the Lightning. Both said the matter was not taken up at a School Board meeting in open or closed session.
After the 2015 North Henderson High School graduate complained, administrators said other girls, including some students, came forward to tell them or School Board members that they felt uncomfortable around Ward.

The 60-year-old factory worker and 1977 East Henderson High School graduate often shoots pictures at games and other school events, posting the photos on Facebook and offering them free to whoever wants them. A Facebook message he sent to a former NHHS student last spring has been misinterpreted, he said.

“Coming out of the parking lot, I see this girl that I knew had graduated at North. I didn’t think much about it,” he said. “I was shooting baseball that day.

“I just sent her a text. It’s April Fool week. I said, ‘I saw a sexy girl at the ballgame today.’ And that’s all I said. Next thing you know it went to this to that and this to that and I said, screw it. I just blocked her (on Facebook). She’s not even a student. It’s April Fool and that’s what I did.”

After complaints from several girls reached the school superintendent’s office around last April, associate superintendent John Bryant called Ward, according to Ward. Ward said he failed to reach Bryant and went on shooting picture at school events.

“I shot North Henderson’s graduation at Biltmore Baptist Church,” where Bryant shook seniors’ hands as they received their diplomas. “I talked to John Bryant there. He ain’t never said nothing about nothing about nothing.

“And then one day I go over there (to North Henderson) to shoot (volleyball coach) Sue Moon and one of the vice principals comes over and says, ‘You’ve been banned from Henderson County school property.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘John Bryant said he’s going to send you a letter.’ First I’ve heard of it. I ain’t got no letter.”

When Ward reached Caldwell by cell phone, Caldwell asked if Ward would come in and meet. Ward agreed. Ward said he met with Caldwell, Bryant and Scott Rhodes, the school system’s human resources director, at central office in September.

“I told them the story,” Ward said. “And they said, ‘We’ll go forward, we’ll send you a letter.’

“Well, send me a letter, I don’t care. … I’ve been taking pictures for 25 years. I’m 60 years old. I don’t care if I ever see another ballgame in my life. I’ve seen enough. … I’m not going to force an issue over a girl that’s probably not stable to sacrifice a friendship with those people.”

At a time of heightened security on school campuses nationwide, the lack of enforcement of the ban could raise concerns.

School Board Attorney Chad Donnahoo said Tuesday that “it would be (a violation) if he (Ward) indeed went to those games. If he said he was there I would suppose that he was. There was a meeting in which said he was banned for one year from all school activities including extracurricular activities.
“I can’t speak to if he attended those events and I will certainly let the administrators in Henderson County central office know that. I’m not aware of that and I’m not sure they are either. I can tell you that, if he indeed attended those events he shouldn’t have.”
As for the evidence school officials used to ban Ward, Donnahoo said most of what he was aware of was on social media in words and photos.
“I believe that the documentation was put on Facebook by Mr. Ward and was on the Facebook of these girls,” he said. “Depending on the nature of the information that was shared, if it was student information it could be confidential.”


Ward admits dispute

Ward acknowledges that he ended up in a Facebook dispute with the 20-year-old woman he had communicated with via social media.

The woman, who spoke to the Lightning on Monday but does not want her name to be published, said she and her girlfriends felt uncomfortable with the messages.

“He’d send messages like, “Go to bed, you’re up late.’ It was kind of weird,” she said. “My parents did not like it.”

Ward had also shot pictures of her best friend, she said. That friend’s parents “got involved,” she said. “I finally made it public (on Facebook) what he did. I had so many messages from girls.”

She said she doesn’t know if her picture or those of her friends are still on Ward’s Facebook page. Numerous messages on his Facebook page last spring say that his site had been hacked.

“He blocked me,” said the woman, who is 20 years old. “He blocked a lot of us girls once he got in trouble for everything, around this time last year.”

The woman said she was surprised when Ward showed up at a court appearance of a member of her family last spring, though he had no connection to the case. She was alarmed when she learned that Ward had filed for School Board.

Because he never received a letter formally banning him from schools, Ward said he’s continued to make pictures at high school events.

“I was over at Hendersonville the other day when they played Pisgah in the second round of basketball,” Ward said. “That was what, a week ago? Go back to football. I took Hendersonville and East (photos last fall). That was for the county championship, wasn’t it? I got a picture of Bo Caldwell there. The last thing I was told by the three was, ‘We’ll have a meeting with the board and we’ll send you a letter.’ And I’ve never seen a letter. So if I’ve not had a letter, what would you presume?”