Ninnekah official fights for license
May be reinstated, but some seek revocation
The superintendent of Ninnekah Public Schools is on the brink of overturning the suspension of his teaching license, but state officials are still seeking to revoke his certification. 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 certification.
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
An administrative law judge reviewed the suspension on Wednesday and found Bunch presents no immediate harm and doesn’t fit 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 certification.
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 five 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 filed 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 plaintiffs, 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 plaintiffs 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 Office 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 certifications 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 confident 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.”