Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 19, 2012

Editorial: District owes parents answers about probe


---- — When Traverse City Area Public Schools officials violated the district's nepotism policy by making Marc William Morris a permanent employee in 2008, they set in motion a series of events that exposed major shortcomings in how the district polices itself and its employees.

Now, in the wake of criminal sexual conduct charges against a former employee, parents want answers to a host of questions: who approved promoting Marc Morris to full-time status in direct violation of the district's nepotism policy; why Morris was hired in the first place, despite a history of legal scrapes; and why the district ignored a series of incidents involving Morris at East Middle School that likely would have gotten other employees fired.

There are a few likely answers to those questions: because Morris is the son of former longtime TCAPS Board President Gerald Morris, he was treated differently than other employees; the district's decision-makers are unaware of the district's own policies; or those in charge are unwilling to enforce those policies when it's uncomfortable to act.

There's no way district and East Middle School administrators didn't know who Marc Morris was. A TCAPS official said Gerald Morris, who at the time was president of the schools board, contacted a human resources official about his son's job application but never pressured school officials to hire his son. Gerald Morris said he didn't remember that happening. Marc Morris also listed then-Superintendent James Feil and Chief Financial Officer Paul Soma as references.

Further, Morris was hired despite Grand Traverse County convictions for drunken driving, marijuana possession and a host of probation violations. TCAPS officials said they were unaware of the marijuana conviction or probation violations because they did not show up in a criminal background check. But both appear on the 86th District Court's public online database.

The district hired Marc Morris in June 2008 as a temporary employee, then made him a permanent employee five months later, in November 2008. Written policy prevents children of school board members from being hired on a permanent basis, yet Marc Morris was promoted to permanent status a month before Gerald Morris left the school board in December 2008.

An internal memo obtained by the Record-Eagle shows East Middle School staff members documented six separate incidents of questionable behavior attributed to Marc Morris in 2010 and 2011; unfortunately, the memo wasn't written until after Morris was fired in 2011 for showing up to work with alcohol in his system and he had filed an appeal.

According to the memo, Morris was seen giving a piggyback ride to a female middle school student, was seen chatting with choir girls in the lobby, and poking a female student in the ribs.

Individually, those incidents — and there were more — may not have been cause for action.

Taken together, however, they painted a clear picture of a grown man flirting with and touching underage girls, unacceptable in any setting.

Most alarming was when the teen victim's stepfather told school officials in 2010 that someone from the school named "Marc" had sent the girl a photo of himself shirtless from chin to waist. The father declined to send them the photo, but Meyer-Looze and an assistant principal confronted Marc Morris, the only "Marc" working at East Middle; he denied the incident.

Clearly, however, that should have been a major red flag and school officials should have turned the whole thing over to the police and let them sort things out.

After a friend of the alleged victim told the girl's mother that the girl had a relationship with Morris, the girl confirmed she had been seeing him for at least two years; the police were called.

He was arrested soon afterward and is still facing charges.

Nepotism rules exist for a host of reasons. One is to weed out people who should be fired but are protected by influence. Clearly, adhering to those rules could possibly have headed off this whole thing. But somebody chose not to act, so here we are.

Parents and taxpayers deserve better. And right now, they want answers.