Livonia (Mich.) Public Schools teacher David Adkins repeatedly grabbed and squeezed male students by the nipples and coach Kelly Graham embezzled approximately $300 of school district funds, according to tenure charges filed against them by the superintendent.
Adkins, a 20-year LPS employee who taught auto technology at the Livonia Career Technical Center, and Graham, a 27-year LPS employee who was the volleyball head coach at Stevenson High, voluntarily resigned from their jobs June 30 under the terms of separation agreements approved by the school board and signed by the teachers union.
Copies of the tenure charges and separation agreements for Adkins and Graham were obtained this week by the Observer under the Freedom of Information Act. A copy of the separation agreement for Sherry Aronson, a fifth-grade teacher at Cooper Upper Elementary School, was also obtained. The district did not seek tenure charges against Aronson.
The teachers will each be paid a lump sum of $10,000 in August of 2015, 2016 and 2017, for a total payout by the district of $90,000. In addition, the teachers were paid their salaries for the remainder of the 2014-15 school year and their benefits are to be continued until July 31.
The teachers also agreed not to sue the district, school board or district employees under the terms of their separation agreements.
Graham’s attorney, Erin Hopper of Okemos, said none of the allegations against her client has been substantiated. “Nothing they ever said was ever proven,” she said in a telephone interview Friday.
Adkins, 48, said in a telephone interview Friday that the charges against him were exaggerated and that the district didn’t interview enough students to get to the truth.
He said he would poke students in the chest when they weren’t working but he didn’t grab their nipples, something he said was confirmed by a paraprofessional who worked in his classroom.
He said he did not call a student by a name that infers he is slow, as the charges also state. He said the word he used, which he declined to repeat, referred to the student’s being slow to work. “He wasn’t slow mentally,” he said.
He admitted to yelling “Shut the hell up” after trying to get his students’ attention for 15 minutes, but said he didn’t punch a steel door, as the charges also allege. He said he pushed the door to go into another room in an effort to regain his composure.
He said because of the charges, he will never be able to work again as a teacher. He said he had nine years to go before retiring.
Support for Graham
Graham did not respond to requests for comment, other than providing her attorney’s contact information. In a July 16 text message following the Observer’s filing of the FOIA request, Graham referred the Observer to a Facebook page, Support Kelly Graham. “You will have all the info,” her text message said.
According to posts on the page, Graham supporters seek the public’s help in standing up for her, whom they describe as “a wonderful teacher and beloved coach.”
According to the tenure charges, in mid-January, Graham removed from the school safe and took home with her some of the approximate $4,400 in locker deposit money she was responsible for collecting. She also put approximately $570 of locker deposit money in an unsecured desk drawer that she shared with another Stevenson teacher, where the money was stolen by some students, the charges allege.
The theft necessitated an audit, during which Graham admitted to still having some of the locker funds at home, according to the charges. In late January, she produced $420 but lied about spending some of the money on ink cartridges, according to the charges. Graham then borrowed money from two coworkers to buy cartridges, filling in a fraudulent date on the receipt, the charges say.
During an interview on or about Feb. 9 with school officials, Graham “admitted she had misappropriated, embezzled, absconded with, and/or stole approximately $300 from the locker funds for her personal use,” the charges state.
Aronson a longtime teacher
Aronson did not respond to a request for comment Friday. Aronson spent her entire teaching career at Livonia Public Schools, starting in 1986 as a first-grade teacher at Adams Elementary (now Perrinville). Later, she taught fifth-grade at Adams, moving to Cooper when it became a fifth- and sixth-grade building, according to the Cooper Upper Elementary School website.
Dana Whinnery, the district’s human resources director, said the $30,000 over three years negotiated by the teachers and district as part of their separation agreements was the same amount the district offered as an early retirement incentive to all eligible teachers this school year to help reduce budget costs.
He said appeals to the Teacher Tenure Commission can drag on for six to nine months, during which districts generally continue to pay employees’ full salaries and benefits in addition to an attorney fees to handle the case.
Adkins and Graham agreed to dismiss their claims of appeal with the Teacher Tenure Commission under the terms of their separation agreements with the district.