Opinion: School district needs to explain why it hired an administrator with shady past

Published 10:22 pm Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Holmes County school officials would not have known three years ago when they hired Dyana Terrelle Thomas that he would get locked up for allegedly having sex with a student of the high school where he has been the assistant principal.

But they would have — or should have — known plenty about his shady past in Alabama to make him ineligible for hire.

Even a cursory background check — nothing more involved than typing his name in a Google search — would have turned up plenty of disqualifying information: namely that over a span of nine years, Thomas had been credibly accused three times — at three different schools where he was principal — of misusing school funds for personal gains.

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He had been found guilty in a 2007 federal prosecution of directing payments two years earlier to three summer workshop “instructors” who never instructed. In at least one of the cases, Thomas got a cut of the payment made to a bogus instructor, a Mobile barber.

In 2012, Thomas was fined $1,000 by the Alabama Ethics Commission for misuse of funds at another school.

Then in the summer of 2014, two years before the Holmes County Consolidated School District would offer Thomas a job, news broke that he was in the crosshairs of yet another investigation into financial shenanigans as a principal. He would eventually plead guilty in 2018 to taking kickbacks from multiple individuals whom Thomas had arranged to work at school functions.

In describing Thomas, an Alabama prosecutor said, “This guy’s fingers are more slippery than an eel.”

With that kind of criminal past and reputation, even before Thomas’ latest legal trouble, serious questions have been raised about how much the Holmes County school district checks out job applicants or whether it even cares.

Mississippi law requires that school districts do background checks on all potential hires. Was one done on Thomas? If so, was it overlooked or ignored?

Admittedly, Holmes County is a tough place to recruit teachers and administrators. It’s poor, heavily rural and has few of the amenities that most people want.

It deals with a chronic shortage of certified educators and probably has to accept some hires who don’t have the ideal academic credentials.

But even desperate school districts should have some standards, such as not hiring people in positions of trust with a demonstrated proclivity of stealing from their employer.

Holmes County has some explaining to do. So far, it’s provided none other than for the current superintendent, Dr. James Henderson, to make the excuse that he wasn’t around when Thomas was hired.

He was on board, though, when Thomas was convicted last August in Alabama. What action did Henderson take then?

It’s time for some answers.

This editorial was originally published in the Greenwood Commonwealth newspaper.