DuPont Manual High School principal Gerald “Jerry” Mayes has been reassigned after a monthslong investigation into allegations of racist remarks and intimidating behavior.
Mayes will be moved to a noninstructional position in the district, according to an email to parents from Glenn Baete, the JCPS assistant superintendent for high schools.
Manual Assistant Principal Greg Kuhn will work with Baete to run the school while a new principal is selected, the email said.
Mayes had been under investigation since October 2017, when he was recorded making racially insensitive remarks to two students. Multiple students and parents have come forward since then to publicly accuse him of racist, transphobic and bullying behaviors.
Manual’s environment turned toxic under Mayes’ leadership, the students alleged. An annual districtwide climate survey found Mayes’ student approval rating dropped nearly 25 percentage points over the past year. Mayes’ parent approval rating dropped around 22 percentage points.
The decision comes two months after the district passed a racial equity policy to boost campus culture and reduce barriers for minorities in its schools.
JCPS spokeswoman Allison Martin confirmed the reassignment, but did not give additional information about the decision. No investigation results were included in the email.
Manual stakeholders have had mixed reactions to the news. Recent graduate Quintez Brown, who was president of Manual’s Black Student Union when the investigation began, thanked Superintendent Marty Pollio for the move in a tweet.
“I hope both sides of this situation can continue to move forward to make sure our schools our safe places for our students to learn and feel like they belong,” Brown tweeted in response to the news. Brown led a sit-in calling for Mayes’ removal in November.
Football coach Scott Carmony, whose request that football players not kneel for the anthem led to the initial conversation with Mayes that sparked the investigation, called the decision “sad, disappointing and disgusting” in a reply-all email response to Baete.
“I personally cannot believe the treatment afforded to Mr. Mayes after 37 years of impeccable service,” Carmony wrote in the email provided to Insider. “The Manual High School community and student body all took an enormous step backwards today.”
Mayes’ personnel file, obtained by Insider through an open records request, only mentions one other formal complaint outside of a 2017 letter reprimanding him for criticizing the district’s top racial and equity official to students.
According to a 2014 performance evaluation, Mayes accepted a Balfour ring and expensed two dinners, neither of which he was allowed to do. Mayes returned the ring and reimbursed the district for the dinners, according to the evaluation.
Students, parents take issue with handling of investigation
Some parents told Insider they weren’t allowed to speak about Mayes anonymously to investigators — the only way they felt they could speak freely without Mayes retaliating against their student, they said.
Superintendent Marty Pollio said the investigation was “thorough” in discussions with Manual’s PTSA, but some asked how thorough the investigation could have been without the option to comment anonymously.
Mayes remained in his position during the investigation, a move criticized by some students and parents. Others under investigation in the district have been removed from their role while under investigation, they said.
One of Manual’s English teachers and one of the school’s black teachers, Nicole Finley, was one example of someone removed during an investigation. After reports of an unspecified infraction, Finley was transferred to the CB Young Jr. Service Center on March 12, according to her personnel file.
Finley’s personnel file, obtained by Insider through an open records request, doesn’t say why she is under investigation. Two disciplinary evaluations in her file, both from spring 2016, say students have complained about unprofessional behavior. Finley becomes disrespectful, “manipulative” and “condescending” when students confront her with concerns, a February 2016 evaluation asserted.
Administrators told students Finley took a “leave of absence,” Manual senior Jess Martel told Insider. As of May 29, she is still under investigation, the file says.
“Why is it fair, then, that our principal, who is also under investigation, remains in the building with students and teachers who feel unsafe and unsupported?” Martel, one of Finley’s AP English students, said.
Beginning with the tape
Mayes’ investigation began shortly after he was secretly recorded criticizing JCPS Chief Equity Officer John Marshall’s office as “inefficient” and saying he had been discriminated against for being white and Protestant.
The students, two African-American seniors, initially went to Mayes to talk about Carmony, the football coach, not allowing students to kneel during the national anthem. Students who wanted to protest were told they’d have to stand in the field house during the anthem, the two students told Mayes.
According to the tape, a student told the football coach, “By putting us in the field house, you’re locking up my people which we’ve been locked up long enough,” a remark passed along to Mayes in the tape by a different student, who had been covering the practice for a student publication.
“That’s ridiculous to say that,” Mayes responded. “Like, come on, that’s a little extreme, don’t you think?”
In an at-times condescending tone and frequently speaking over and interrupting the students, Mayes debated with the students over discrimination for nearly an hour. Mayes frequently noted the importance of open dialogue to discuss oppression and similar issues, as the students became increasingly less responsive as he talked.
Mayes told the students they have “to be careful here” when discussing racism and oppression, along with resulting protests, because it could be considered sensationalism. Mayes said some take “that card” and play it to a fault.
“You cry wolf so much that you get away from the real point here,” Mayes said.
Mayes said he was discriminated against because he grew up in Shively, had divorced parents or is Protestant and compared that to racism faced by African-Americans. He lost four jobs “for being white,” he said.
“I think that’s pretty different,” the student said in response.
“How’s that different?” Mayes responded, asking the student if they thought it was possible to be discriminated against for their religion and told the student to “go back and look at the Crusades.”
“I think to the degree, like the discrimination degree, I think it’s a little worse for black people,” the student said.
“I disagree with you on that,” Mayes said. “I totally, totally disagree with you on that.”
“I’ve been discriminated against because I’ve been white,” Mayes said after asking the student to consider other perspectives and understand that African-Americans aren’t the only group discriminated against.
“This is not a white-black thing,” Mayes said. “This is about treating people properly, period.”
At one point, Mayes asks the students if they would rather him hire an African-American teacher or “the best teacher,” insinuating that a black teacher could not be a top teacher.
Some students and community members criticized Mayes’ comments, calling them racist. The recording sparked a series of events about Mayes and the school’s culture, including a student-led sit in. The education website Dear JCPS posted letters accusing Mayes of inappropriately commenting about students of color and a transgender student.
Mayes apologized in a lengthy email to Marshall, according to emails obtained by Insider through an open records request.
“John, if you saw me as unprofessional then I deserve a write-up,” Mayes wrote, adding that he requested a citation from Weston for his comments. “That is the bottom line with me. I am frustrated with myself.”
In the apology, Mayes said Manual’s Black Student Union had “started running into some issues of credibility.” Despite having the best attendance that year since the group’s creation, students were beginning to question themselves and the BSU, Mayes wrote.
“I will defend your office at any challenge,” Mayes said in a follow-up email to Marshall. “You will not hear any reference ever again other than positive support for your efforts.
The emails barely mentioned remarks outside of those made about Marshall and his office.
“39 years (working in schools), a kid I trusted, I am still in shock,” Mayes wrote about the situation in an October email to chief academic officer Carmen Coleman. “Trying to drive home my passion for equity and diversity created this situation.”
In the weeks following the tape, Mayes would forward emails supporting him to Pollio and Weston. “Just to balance the field a little,” Mayes said in one email he forwarded in November 2017.
Assistant superintendent Brad Weston reprimanded Mayes for speaking negatively about a district official to students in an Oct. 27, 2017 letter. Months later, the state education standards board admonished Mayes for the same thing, ordering him to complete ethics training. Mayes completed the training in May, a standards board official confirmed.
A letter from the mom of one of the students in the tape later apologized for the recording, alleging two teachers — James Miller and Finley — told the students to record the conversation without Mayes’ permission. Miller denied the allegation, and Finley issued a statement saying the school’s community needed “healing,” according to WDRB.
How the investigation played out
The district released a third-party school climate audit, which was begun in tandem with the investigation, in March. Manual’s culture is generally positive, the audit found, but the school could be more inclusive of minority students and faculty.
Soon after, Manual students and parents publicly accused Mayes of a variety of insensitive behaviors in Jefferson County Board of Education meetings.
In a March 27 meeting, Manual senior Darian White said Mayes had created an “oppressive, intimidating, unstable and psychologically unsafe atmosphere” at the school.
Two of Nicole Finley’s daughters, Manual students Sadie and Sydney Finley, criticized Mayes’ behaviors toward them as students of color.
Sadie said Mayes would give her “evil glares” for complaining about being falsely accused of cheating. “All I asked for was an apology and to be treated fairly and equally in the classroom, but didn’t get either,” Sadie told the board.
Two weeks later, an anonymous video supporting Mayes and discounting allegations against him was posted on YouTube by a user named Tracey Jones. Manual administration “has had to say no a time or two,” the video’s opening page said, causing a “few people” to have a “vendetta against the administration ever since they didn’t get their way.”
“We cannot let a few teachers with a personal agenda manipulate our children any longer,” the video said, later specifically naming Finley.
At the board’s next meeting in April, coincidentally held at YPAS, more students came forward against Mayes. A total of 12 students, parents and community members accused Mayes of transphobic and anti-LGBTQ comments, censorship of student press and retaliation.
One Manual student said she, the only black student in a class, was once asked to work separately in a closet in a different room. It’s hard to tell how many other feel “secluded” at the school because people are afraid to speak out, fearing that Mayes will hurt them academically, she said.
A speaker read a statement from Manual graduate Casey Hoke, who said Mayes’ comments “traumatized” him. No student, transgender or not, should be demonized, Hoke said in the statement. Other Manual alumni told the Courier Journal that Mayes has a history of offensive comments aimed at transgender students.
Martel, then a Manual senior, said Mayes had requested to review the yearbook before publication, which often led to stories involving LGBTQ students being censored. Martel cut her time in front of the board short due to the amount of people wanting to speak, but she told Insider that she would have told the board Mayes “censors through manipulation.”
“He refuses to explicitly say we cannot publish things, but has in the past pressured the yearbook into not publishing stories by calling families, threatening the editors and making ominous suggestions about the future of the magnet,” Martel said.
Five Mayes supporters spoke, too, with one accusing students of slandering Mayes. Others indirectly attacked the Finleys, suggesting them speaking out was retaliatory for the investigation into Nicole Finley.
“I don’t plan to defame anyone tonight, unlike those who have come before me,” Lexi Mayes, one of Mayes’ daughters, told the board.
Mayes and his wife adopted several children, some of whom are biracial, Lexi explained. “My parents never saw color,” she said.
“A handful of people have been allowed to come forward and completely make up stories that never took place, and name call and berate that person’s character” Samantha Hufford said, calling the allegations of racism “one-sided hearsay.”
“There is no hearsay,” Sydney Finley later told the board, addressing them for the second meeting in a row. “There is no lack of foundation.”
This post will be updated. The post has been updated to add information about previous infractions and reactions.