The Oklahoman

Ninnekah official fights for license

May be reinstated, but some seek revocation

- Nuria Martinez-Keel The Oklahoman

The superinten­dent of Ninnekah Public Schools is on the brink of overturnin­g the suspension of his teaching license, but state officials are still seeking to revoke his certification. Todd Bunch is expected to have his license reinstated Friday after a judge recommende­d on Wednesday the suspension be lifted.

The Oklahoma State Board of Education emergency suspended Bunch’s license on Sept. 30. The board will reconvene Friday to vote again on his certification.

Bunch still remains on administra­tive leave with pay from Ninnekah schools, a district reeling from sexual abuse allegation­s and criminal charges against its former girls’ basketball

coach.

An administra­tive law judge reviewed the suspension on Wednesday and found Bunch presents no immediate harm and doesn’t fit the bill for emergency action.

Bunch had challenged his suspension in Oklahoma County District Court, where another judge on Oct. 6 ordered a 10-day pause on his suspension to allow for the administra­tive hearing.

The administra­tive judge advised the Oklahoma State Department of Education should schedule a hearing to potentiall­y revoke Bunch’s certification.

The agency will “proceed immediatel­y” with a revocation hearing, said Brad Clark, the agency’s general counsel. However, no date is set for it to take place, an agency spokespers­on said.

Bunch is one of five current and former Ninnekah employees who were sued amid the district’s sexual abuse scandal. Demands for his resignatio­n became deafening in the town of 1,000 residents south of Chickasha.

Twelve young women filed a lawsuit in August against the Ninnekah district, Friend Public Schools, the Grady County sheriff, a sheriff’s detective and multiple school staff members.

The plaintiffs, all former girls basketball players, allege the defendants failed to act while their coach Ronald Gene Akins allegedly abused and harassed them. Three more women have since come forward with similar allegation­s.

Akins, 54, has been charged in Grady County District Court with two counts of felony sexual battery and two counts of felony rape by instrument­ation.

The plaintiffs contend Bunch knew or should have known about Akins’ alleged abuse.

Bunch’s attorney, Mark Hammons, said the superinten­dent was never told of any concrete allegation­s.

“Mr. Bunch, like everybody else I know, is not psychic,” Hammons said. “He doesn’t know things just because they happen. Somebody has to tell him. It’s really clear nobody communicat­ed to him any informatio­n about the coach that would have warranted him taking action any sooner than he did.”

A Grady County detective informed Bunch in 2015 of abuse accusation­s against Akins from the coach’s previous school district. Hammons said investigat­ors found too little evidence for Bunch to discipline the coach.

The 2015 investigat­ion never resulted in criminal charges against Akins. It wasn’t until this summer, when two former players reported Akins had kissed and touched them inappropri­ately, that he was arrested.

The Grady County Sheriff’s Office turned over the investigat­ion into alleged abuse at Ninnekah schools to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigat­ion.

State schools Superinten­dent Joy Hofmeister said Ninnekah showed a “total breakdown” in Title IX protection­s of its students. Hofmeister said it was “plainly astonishin­g” that school administra­tors failed to investigat­e Akins and didn’t take action sooner.

“Had Ninnekah administra­tors responded appropriat­ely to the allegation­s that local law enforcemen­t alerted them to in 2015, regarding Ronald Akins and possible misconduct involving a student at another district, any incidents of harassment and assault that Akins subjected Ninnekah students to after that time could potentiall­y have been prevented,” Hofmeister wrote in a letter to the school district.

The Ninnekah Board of Education placed Bunch and high school principal David Pitts on administra­tive leave Aug. 25.

The district has since hired an interim superinten­dent, establishe­d a threemembe­r Title IX team, mandated staff training and approved new Title IX policies.

The state Board of Education on Sept. 30 placed Ninnekah schools on probation and suspended the certifications of Bunch, Pitts and former assistant girls’ basketball coach Charles Yackeyonny.

Bunch was the only one to challenge his state-imposed suspension in court.

Hammons, Bunch’s attorney, said he is confident the superinten­dent will be cleared of alleged wrongdoing.

“We don’t feel like he did anything wrong, and that’s not to minimize the seriousnes­s about the accusation­s of what the coach did,” Hammons said. “Students need to be protected. Parents need to know that students are safe in the school. Those are all things (Bunch) agrees with.”

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