Updated at 2:45 p.m. Saturday: with additional information throughout.
Students and parents gathered before Krum High School's football game Friday, not to support the team but to denounce the school’s administration after a beloved assistant principal was let go under mysterious circumstances.
Krum High School administrator Bernard Lightfoot was asked to resign by Monday — and threatened with firing if he didn't — after he confronted administrators whose relatives saw sudden and unprecedented improvement in their class rankings, students and parents say.
Parent Ruth Pierson said that several students, including one of her children, were called out of class to sign nondisclosure waivers without their parents’ knowledge or consent.
The Education Lab
Receive our in-depth coverage of education issues and stories that affect North Texans.
Krum Mayor Ron Harris, who has a child enrolled at the school, began to read a statement on the matter at Wednesday's board meeting but was interrupted by the board president, he wrote in a Facebook post.
“With no nepotism policy present in the KISD employee online handbook, it appears that the current daily operations could better be described as a family reunion,” Harris wrote. “There is the perception of myself and other members of this community ... that the children related to high-ranking district employees and school board members are being placed in positions that have been unrightfully gained.”
Neither Krum High principal Michelle Pieniazek nor assistant principal Shanna Orsi could be reached for comment, but the superintendent released a statement saying the allegations have prompted a review of district policies.
“While we do not believe there have been any unethical uses of administrative power, we will be conducting an audit of our procedures and policies and how they are being applied,” Krum ISD Superintendent Cody Carroll said in a written statement.
Students say ranking discrepancies reflect unprecedented weight given to certain extracurricular activities, effectively penalizing students for choosing band or sports.
The rankings are a key component of college applications, showing how seniors stack up against their peers. Tuition waivers cover public-college tuition for freshman students who graduate at the tops of their classes.
But even if the allegations of grade tampering are false, the board violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by voting on Lightfoot's dismissal behind closed doors, Harris said. Harris contacted the Texas Education Agency about the possibility of an investigation but has not yet filed a formal complaint.
The board said their concern had to do with Lightfoot's application, which reportedly did not accurately reflect which degrees he had earned at each of the higher education institutions he had attended.
Lightfoot, who attended West Point, taught social studies and coached soccer and football at Sam Houston High School in Arlington before moving to Krum High in Denton County in 2016. In addition to his work at the school, he coached several children's sports teams. He could not be reached for comment.
Several students backed Lightfoot on Twitter, posting memes tagged #bringbacklightfoot, sharing memories of the administrator and telling classmates that the nondisclosure agreements some signed shouldn’t be legally binding.
“The compassion and love that he showed me was insane,” senior Michael Cater said. “He came my sophomore year and after that, I had no [disciplinary] issues.”
Michael's mother, Kasie Cater, said she steered clear of the principal at Krum High.
“I generally just did everything I could not to have to deal with [Pieniazek] and to deal with Mr. Lightfoot instead,” Cater said.
A follow-up news release from Krum ISD asked community members to refrain from "increasingly hostile and hurtful" social media posts as they wait for the audit's results.
Over 200 people now sport #SAVELIGHTFOOT shirts, organizer Stephanie Powell said, and community members plan to rally around the school when classes begin again Tuesday morning.