SUPERINTENDENT OF ARKANSAS SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND FORCED OUT:NAC TAKES ANOTHER HIT
by Kenneth Jernigan and Barbara Pierce
At a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Arkansas Schools for the Deaf and the Blind on September 23, 1994, Leonard Ogburn, Superintendent of the School for the Blind, was forced to resign amid charges and counter-charges of sexual misconduct, nepotism, favoritism, and misuse of school resources. Many of those familiar with the situation at the Arkansas School for the Blind (ASB) say that Ogburn, school alumnus (although he now sees well enough to drive a car) and Superintendent since 1985, ran the place as though it were his personal kingdom. But when, on June 23, 1994, an ASB teacher requested the Pulaski County Prosecutor to issue a warrant for Ogburn's arrest, alleging that he had spanked her several times and threatened to do so again in connection with her annual performance review, the Superintendent's castle began to crumble. In the weeks following the first allegation, at least eight other women came forward with claims of Ogburn's inappropriate comments, pinching, biting, fondling, and spanking. Moreover, accusations of nepotism, widespread favoritism, and misuse of staff time and ASB equipment also began to attract serious media and governmental attention. The five-member Board of Trustees, which governs both the School for the Blind and the School for the Deaf, suspended Ogburn with pay on June 24, 1994, pending an investigation; but following their receipt of the police investigator's 328-page report, they voted four to one in September to allow the Superintendent to submit his resignation to be effective October 19.
At the same meeting at which Ogburn was allowed to resign instead of being fired in return for his promise not to sue the School, the Board voted to include a $6,000 line item in the School's budget request to the legislature to renew the institution's accreditation with NAC (the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped). In the circumstances the decision was not surprising since the NAC seal appears to be the shield for corrupt practice and poor performance more often than the assurance of quality service. . .
Moreover, we may never know the real truth since the [corruption] charges, though they were made public in June, were not included in the warrant for Ogburn's arrest, which was issued on August 22, 1994, and dealt entirely with harassment. At the time of this writing (mid-October, 1994) Ogburn's trial is scheduled to begin on December 1.
With respect to that trial, the judge and jury will be faced with difficult questions and unusual (one might almost say bizarre) testimony. The complainant is one of the teachers at the school, a woman who, according to both parties, has been close friends with Ogburn for many years. They have exchanged birthday and Christmas gifts, and did so during the 1993-94 academic year even though trouble was apparently brewing. Ogburn hired this woman at a time when she had only a two-year vocational degree, which was adequate for the course that she was expected to teach. Subsequently she was shifted to teach in an area that required a four-year degree, which meant that her credentials were now insufficient. Nevertheless, she was given the job and permitted to do the work. With Ogburn's encouragement, and (according to him) a remarkable amount of assistance from both him and his wife, she obtained a four-year degree and now has the credentials she needs to do the academic teaching she has been doing without proper credentials for years.
Arkansas has a strong rape shield law, which requires that anything that could reveal the identity of a woman making charges of sexual misconduct must be expunged from material being published. Therefore, the information that follows has been carefully edited to eliminate any allusion that might indicate the identity of any of the women who have made charges. Although the context and wording may appear to make it seem that some of the affidavits we are printing in the rest of this article are from men, they are all from women. For convenience we will refer to the teacher who brought the charges as Miss A. We will refer to the others as Miss B, Miss C, etc.
As we try to separate reality from fiction, certain facts should be kept in mind. In recent months Miss A has passed two separate polygraph tests, in which she was asked whether she was telling the truth about her allegations of physical harassment at Ogburn's hands. She also has a tape recording of a telephone conversation which she says occurred on June 26, 1994, in which Ogburn admits to the spankings and asks what she wants from him. Ogburn, on the other hand, failed a polygraph test about the spankings. Yet, listening to Ogburn's recorded telephone interview with the Monitor reporter, one can easily be convinced that he is genuinely perplexed and hurt by Miss A's accusations against him. Miss A is equally convincing in her display of distress and anger at what she maintains has happened to her. Yet, both parties cannot be telling the truth.
From the hundreds of pages of affidavits and reports and from extensive personal interviews, the following picture emerges. Some years ago Ogburn's first wife died of cancer. Miss A was already a staff member at the school, and in the months following Mrs. Ogburn's death Ogburn and Miss A were very close. In fact, they seem to have spent time alone at Ogburn's condominium, where Miss A says she received one very hard spanking, and Ogburn says they played games in which they spanked each other's hands. According to Ogburn, he has never kissed Miss A on the mouth, though he admits that he may have kissed her on the cheek. They have hugged and held hands often, however, according to Ogburn.
In the year following his first wife's death, Ogburn remarried, and the spankings apparently stopped until 1993. Some say that the second Ogburn marriage has been showing strain in recent years and that this may provide sufficient explanation for the renewed spankings and talk of spanking.
Miss A is not the only one to make charges. Other women have come forward to file affidavits indicating that they, too, have experienced inappropriate physical and verbal contact initiated by Ogburn. These women fall into two groups: Arkansas School for the Blind students from Miss A's general student era and recent and current female School employees.
Reading these affidavits and listening to Ogburn's talk about his relationships with students and staff, one is struck by his inability to make distinctions in his treatment of students, professional colleagues, and personal friends. He is clearly a man who enjoys what might be called "horsing around" with the people with whom he associates. He seems not to have much grasp of the dignity required of his position, the respect he should show to his colleagues, or the distance he should maintain with students. His behavior is obviously unprofessional, inappropriate, and boorish—but how far beyond that does it go? To attempt to find answers, let us turn to the affidavits:
Affidavit of Miss A
I, name withheld, state on oath and affirm:
1. I was born in 19xx and I am . . . years old. . . .
2. I attended the Arkansas School for the Blind from 19xx to 19xx and graduated from the Arkansas School for the Blind with a high school degree.
While I attended the School for the Blind, I first met Mr. Leonard Ogburn, who is presently the superintendent of the school and was then employed as a vocational teacher.
3. . . . and in 19xx was employed there as a teacher. I have been employed at the Arkansas School for the Blind as a teacher since. . . .
4. While employed at the Arkansas School for the Blind I have attempted to give to the school and the students there my best efforts.
5. On or about August 4, 1993, Mr. Leonard Ogburn, then the superintendent, called me shortly after 9:00 in the morning at my home. He said that he wanted to come over and talk to me about my evaluation as a teacher at the school and then have lunch. He said something like "We're going to talk about it, and then I'm going to give you your spanking." He had done this before, so I knew what he meant by it. In 19xx, he spanked me very hard. A little after 11:00 a.m. on August 4, 1993, I met him outside the front door of my house hoping to avoid any physical contact. I said that we could talk over lunch and did not need to go in my house. He said no, that we should go inside. He said he also wanted to give me a spanking. I was scared and intimidated, and I went inside with him. He talked about my employee evaluation and then said, "Now you know what you have to do—you have to get your spanking." I said, "Leonard, I don't like this; I don't want to do this." He said, "No, come on." He grabbed me and pulled me over his knee and spanked me. This was extremely humiliating to me. I went ahead and went to lunch because I was afraid of what he might do if I didn't. A friend of mine who is also an employee at the blind school called me after I got back from lunch. When I talked to her I was crying. I told her, I was crying because I was upset about my evaluation. I was afraid to tell her what had really happened. I wish I had told her. I decided that I would not let this happen again.
6. Since the spanking and over the 1993-94 school year Mr. Ogburn has expressed displeasure that I have not attended all of the extra-curricular meetings involving the blind school. These meetings are not during regular working hours, and I am not required to attend these meetings. Some of the meetings he was referring to include a literacy conference, a Bingo party, and an AER conference. Mr. Ogburn, when asking me whether I was going to attend the AER conference in May of 1994, asked if I was going to get a spanking this year.
Based on some of Mr. Ogburn's comments about my failure to attend these extra-curricular meetings and the fact that I had an additional performance review coming up this summer, I became concerned that Mr. Ogburn might attempt to repeat the spanking. I decided that I cannot and will not subject myself to that again.
7. I wish to formally complain about these activities of Mr. Ogburn. I am afraid and intimidated by him and fear that he will try to take some sort of action against me either personally or that will jeopardize my job. Despite my fear and concern over this, I feel that it is important for the blind school and for myself personally to stand up to Mr. Ogburn and stand against this sort of activity.
Dated this 22nd day of June, 1994
Signed and notarized
Affidavit of Miss B
I, name withheld, state on oath and affirm:
1. I am . . . years old and was born in 19xx. I was employed at the Arkansas School for the Blind between . . . and . . . .
While I worked there, my position of employment was janitor. In my capacity as an employee of the blind school, I came into contact with Mr. Leonard Ogburn, the Superintendent.
On many occasions I would be working in the administration building on the blind school campus, where Mr. Ogburn's office is located, after all the employees had gone home.
I was cleaning the building as part of my job. On one specific occasion in early 19xx at approximately 5:30 in the afternoon I was running a vacuum cleaner in the administration building and was bent over to work on the vacuum cleaner. Leonard Ogburn came up from behind me and hit me very hard in the buttocks and genital area. He just hit me one time, but it was a very hard striking of that area of my body.
The vacuum cleaner was going, and he said something, but I could not understand what it was that he said. It was all I could do to contain myself, but I was scared and shocked and did not know exactly what to do.
After thinking about it overnight, I confronted him the next day in his office. I told him to never do that again. At first he denied doing it but later admitted it.
The job that I had at the Blind School was the worst job I have ever had in my life.
The atmosphere at the Blind School was one of favoritism, office politics, and intimidation. People would lie and cover up for each other in ways that I have never seen before. If you played the favorite game, you were well treated; but, if you attempted to stand up for anything that was wrong, you were chastised.
Dated this 29th day of June, 1994
Signed and notarized
Affidavit of Miss C
I, name withheld, state on oath and affirm:
1. I was born in 19xx and I am . . . years old. I live in Arkansas.
I am an employee at the Arkansas School for the Blind. My position there is . . . teacher, and I have worked there since. . . .
. . . .
While working at the School for the Blind, I have had occasion to deal with Mr. Leonard Ogburn.
On one occasion Mr. Ogburn called me out of class to tell me that I was his pet and that I was very important. I can't understand why he would call me out of class and away from the students to tell me this, and I thought that this was unusual.
At times when I have been in his office at his request, he has put his finger in the pocket of my pants and said that he liked the way my britches looked on me.
On one occasion he called me away from my class on the intercom and told me he was looking at my picture in the school annual. He told me that he loved the way my picture looked in the school annual. I expressed to him my surprise that he would call me away from class and away from the students for a reason like this.[Ogburn made a demeaning comment.]
At a recent . . . meeting, where some of the tough issues involving the school were being debated,. . . . This was in front of a number of people, and I felt that he did this to put me down and as an expression of support for the other view being expressed.
After the meeting I went to his office and told him in no uncertain terms how inappropriate I felt his actions were. After we discussed the matter for a while, he said come here, you can't leave yet; we have to make up, and to make up you have to give me a kiss. I told him then we would never make up because I was not going to kiss him. He forcefully replied, you just remember you owe me something, and we don't make up until you give me a kiss. I immediately told another teacher of this occurrence.
On another occasion he pinched me very hard on the cheek after a COE meeting. I told him not to ever do this to me again, and it did hurt. He has also patted me on the cheek and then acted surprised when I expressed displeasure at that. He would say, "Oh you don't like that?"
In bringing this information forward, I am concerned that Mr. Ogburn may take some sort of retaliatory action against me. . . . I request that the Governor's Office and the Board act to protect . . . me . . . in conjunction with my sharing this information for the benefit of the School and the students there.
Dated this 29th day of June, 1994
Signed and notarized
Affidavit of Miss D
My name is (name withheld). I was born in 19xx, in Arkansas. I currently live in Arkansas. I am employed as. . . . [not at ASB] I have worked there for the past fifteen years. Before that I received a bachelor of science degree in elementary/special education from the University of. . . in. . . . My fields of study were. . . .
Earlier this year I was contacted by . . . , a teacher at the Arkansas School for the Blind. . . . [Miss A] and I had been in school there together in the 'x0's. She had gotten my name from a woman, . . . who had been a library aide my senior year at the school. I had not heard from . . . [the aide] for about . . . years, but we had had a close relationship at that time because I spent a lot of time in the library on my own in addition to the two-hour study period each night. . . . remembered what I had told her and contacted an employee she knew who still worked there. This employee put her in touch with . . . [Miss A], and . . . called me to ask about Mr. Ogburn's behavior with me. I was stunned to hear about all of this after . . . years and was reluctant to get involved at first. I am telling these details now to support . . . [Miss A] and to improve the situation at the school.
I was a student at ASB from kindergarten through graduation in June, 19xx. When I was seventeen and a senior, I began cleaning house for Mr. Ogburn, the school vocational director, and his wife, an elementary teacher there. The year before another student had done this job and had quit abruptly, causing me to wonder why, as it seemed like a good way to earn extra spending money. Later on I wondered if she had had a similar experience to mine. Mr. Ogburn would take me to his house after school on Thursday afternoons where I would vacuum and dust, etc. I remember it was Thursday because that was the night "The Waltons" was on TV, and he wanted me to be through in the den by 7:00 so he could watch and hear the show. Mrs. Ogburn and LeAnn, their daughter, were not home during these times. I do not remember if she had a class, hair appointment, or what; but it was regularly on Thursday as she and LeAnn were not there when I cleaned.
It was not unusual for students to work for staff members outside school hours. Some would babysit and others would do yard work or car washes for extra pay. I had worked at the vending stand at school for Mr. Ogburn. He was well liked and respected by the students. He was always visiting with them and often made bets with them over trivial things, usually with the loser buying the winner a Coke. I would bet with him too. He used any excuse to make a bet. At first, if I lost the bet, I had to buy him a Coke; and, if he lost, he bought me a Coke. Eventually he wanted his winning of the bet to be that he'd get to give me a spanking. Thursdays after school, when we got to his house, he'd insist that he would have to give me a spanking for some bet that I had lost during the week. He sat on the couch and insisted I lie across his lap so he could spank me. I had to comply no matter how much I tried to talk him out of it; for he wouldn't drop the issue until he was able to give me a spanking.
At his house he also insisted that he wanted to show me some wrestling holds the boys in school were learning. I would tell him that I wasn't interested in wrestling and I didn't want to do that, but he would insist. He then made me get on the floor with him while he would grab me in different holds, keeping after me when I tried to get away from him. I was forced to try to get away or else he wouldn't let me up.
One evening he told me it was time for my spanking, but he wanted to spank me on my bare bottom. I tried to get out of it, but he insisted I had to pull my pants down in the back, lie across his lap, where he then spanked me on my bare bottom. This happened two times. One time he even asked me to spank him. I was very ignorant of sexual matters back then, but I had very bad feelings about all of this, especially as it continued, and I didn't know how to get out of it.
Sometimes on Thursday, if he hadn't spanked me before Mrs. Ogburn and LeAnn got home, he would tell me about it on the way back to school. He then said we needed to go by the waterworks so I could get my spanking. I did not know exactly where or what the waterworks was, but it was always dark there, and we never got out of the car. It seemed fairly close to school. He would then drive me back to school, and I remember he recorded his mileage in a notebook he kept.
After the second time he spanked me on my bare bottom, I finally mentioned all this to . . . , the library aide, because I trusted her judgment and didn't know what else to do about the situation. . . . then met with the superintendent, Mr. Max Woolly. She has since told me that the home life director Mr. Bob Brasher, met with them and that they said they would look into it. As far as she knows, nothing was ever done about it. When she didn't return to school the next year, I was afraid she might have lost her job because of me, but she said she wasn't coming back anyway. I also seem to remember that I was asked to take a test from the psychologist about that time, and I often wondered if the two were connected. The test was about personality, and I remember consciously answering all the questions with similar answers. For example, one question was about a hat and whether or not I would mend it, sell it, or give it away. I remember answering "sell it," which was not like me as I hated to even sell candy for class fund-raisers. At the end of the test the psychologist commented that my personality profile fell into the "persuasive" category. I wondered why I was being given this kind of test this close to graduation and if it had anything to do with my telling . . . and her telling Mr. Brasher and Mr. Woolly about what I had reported about Mr. Ogburn. I never checked to see if the results of the test were placed in my student file.
I am reporting this information after . . . years because other people have reported their experiences with Mr. Ogburn, experiences I thought had only happened to me. I want to support them in their statements, and I want the improprieties to stop.
Signed and notarized, July 25, 1994
Affidavit of Miss E
My name is (name withheld). I was born in 19xx, in Arkansas. I now reside in . . . [another state].I attended the Arkansas School for the Blind in Little Rock, Arkansas, from the fourth through the twelfth grades, 19xx-xx. At that time, I probably had 20/200 vision (I now have only light perception).
From the spring of 19xx through the spring of 19xx [one year], I sometimes babysat for LeAnn Ogburn, the daughter of Leonard and Joyce Ogburn, and was paid. Mr. Ogburn was an administrator at the school, and Mrs. Ogburn was a teacher. LeAnn must have been approximately seven years old.
At times the Ogburns attended functions together, and at other times they went to separate places. On some of those occasions, when Mr. Ogburn got home first and LeAnn was asleep, the following events took place.
Mr. Ogburn said, "Let me show you a new wrestling hold I showed Robert today." Robert was the boy I was dating. Because of my limited vision and also because I was a cheerleader for the team, I wanted to know what the wrestling procedures were. At first he only demonstrated the wrestling moves, but later he progressed to rubbing against me with his lower body. I would try to jump up and pull away. He would grab me; I would fall to my knees; he would get on my back and rock back and forth. I would try to get up from my knees as I was very fearful of him.
One time Mr. Ogburn said he just wanted to show me some wrestling holds. He held me in the pin position and rubbed his abdominal areas against me. I told him I did not ever want to see any more wrestling holds. I did not babysit for them for a long period of time.
Mr. Ogburn constantly joked with students about birthday spankings, which in public only amounted to pops with a paper or something as he passed through the snack bar. I just passed these off. During this time we began betting Cokes on ball games. If Texas won, he bought me a Coke; if the Razorbacks won, I bought him a Coke. At first it was Coke for Coke, but once, when I lost a bet, he said he wanted to collect a spanking instead of a Coke and made me pay up by laying me across his lap and spanking me. Several more spanking episodes occurred.
The next time I babysat, he said, "I'm going to give you a birthday spanking." He turned me across his lap, held and spanked me, and pushed his male organ up against me with his lap. Then he said, "I'll bet you can't hurt me," and told me to spank him. I did because I wanted to hurt him. I refused to babysit anymore.
I graduated and left the school. I thought this behavior had stopped, but now I have become apprised of similar instances and realize that it never stopped at all and Mr. Ogburn has done this to some others. My reason for coming forward is because of a history of this activity. I knew at the time of one, possibly two, other females who were at the school in the mid-x0's who had been similarly abused.
Signed and notarized, June 1, 1994
There we have the affidavit of Miss A, as well as those of several others. Miss A says that there are still more women who have had similar experiences but who cannot bring themselves to tell what they know. Whether Miss A's testimony will stand up when she reaches court and has to be identified remains to be seen. And what a jury will make of the whole messy business is anybody's guess. When asked why she is pressing charges against Ogburn despite their long friendship, Miss A says that she simply came to the point where she could never again allow herself to be intimidated and frightened by Ogburn. She says that she is determined that today's and tomorrow's students at the Arkansas School for the Blind will not suffer the abuse to which their predecessors have been exposed.
The scene that took place on September 23, 1994, when the School's Board of Trustees forced Ogburn to resign in response to the police report and the pressure from the Governor's office and the State Department of Education rapidly reached a pitch of hysteria. During the public portion of the meeting Ogburn's supporters (and there were a lot of them) said that the School would be destroyed if Ogburn was forced to resign. When the Board's decision to put Ogburn out was announced, the sobbing and shouting crowd of well over a hundred surged outdoors, where reporters and television cameras were waiting. While one employee was weeping and making a statement to a reporter with a video camera, her husband struck the tape recorder from the hands of the Braille Monitor reporter. He then repeatedly ground it under his foot, completely destroying the equipment. The action was indicative of both the mood and the rationality of the crowd. It should be said here that, though the tape recorder was destroyed, the tape was not. The record remains, giving irrefutable evidence of the lawless and frenzied behavior of the crowd—or perhaps one should say mob.
But, of course, the real issue is not the excited behavior of Ogburn's supporters, or even the specific charges and countercharges. The prime concern must be the well-being of the children at the School, those who are there now and those who are yet to come. Almost as important are the atmosphere and working conditions for both teachers and administrative staff. A battleground characterized by warring groups and kinky behavior is no suitable environment for education. If worse comes to worst, the adults can bail out. The children cannot.
. . .
HAVE YOU BEEN|
TO THE NEWSROOM?