Moultrie Observer: Propst investigation cites pill incidents, dishonesty, insubordination

Moultrie Observer: Propst investigation cites pill incidents, dishonesty, insubordination
Rush Propst (WALB)

MOULTRIE, GA (Moultrie Observer/Wayne Grandy) - An investigation by Colquitt County School Superintendent Doug Howell determined Rush Propst violated five standards of the Georgia Code of Ethics for Educators, including by giving pills to students “on more than one occasion,” our partners at the Moultrie Observer reports.

The investigation led to his dismissal on Thursday after 11 years as the head coach of the Colquitt County High School football team.

The violations are spelled out in the summary of the internal investigation. The Observer obtained a copy of the investigation report through a Georgia Open Records law request.

According to the report, Howell concluded that Propst violated the Code of Ethics for Educators for (1) legal compliance, (2) conduct with students, (3) honesty, and (4) public funds and property.

Howell also added that, “In my opinion, there is one more standard to be considered. Standard No. 9: ‘An educator shall demonstrate conduct that follows generally recognized professional standards and preserves the dignity and integrity of the education process. Unethical conduct is any conduct that is detrimental to the health, welfare, discipline or morals of students.’”

Among the issues Howell investigated were:

  • Providing pills “on more than one occasion” to students. None of the documents identifies the type of medication, except for one witness who said the pills he saw “might have been Aleve,” which is an over-the-counter pain killer.
  • Owing $301,317 in federal income taxes and $143,000 in delinquent state taxes.
  • Interfering in the hiring of Jamie Dixon as the Colquitt County High School principal.
  • Insubordination.
  • Attempting to charge $143.66 for a personal hotel stay to the school system.
  • Interfering with another sport.
  • Problems associated with the 2018 football team and especially conduct at the end of the championship game loss to Milton.

The investigation report includes documentation for each issue.

Medicine

The investigation revealed that Propst gave pills to students “out of his pocket, in the office area, at halftime, and at his truck. He is not allowed to give over-the-counter medicines or unauthorized medicines,” the report stated.

“The evidence showed that on one occasion he gave a pill to a student at halftime and the student was observed by medical personnel who described him as dazed and lethargic after getting the pill from Coach Propst,” the investigation report said.

The incident occurred during a 2012 game against Thomas County Central in which an injured player was given an unidentified pill.

Confronted by the team doctor following the game, Propst said he would no longer give medications to players, according to documents in the investigation file.

Colquitt County trainer Ryan Kebler wrote in response to a request from Howell that he had “seen and heard about Coach Propst giving players medicine” during the 2018 season.

Three assistant coaches revealed that they also witnessed Propst dispense medicine this past season. Another said he had seen the coach call players to his office when they were injured.

According to the Georgia Code of Ethics for Educators, “Unethical conduct includes but is not limited to furnishing tobacco, alcohol or illegal/unauthorized drugs to any student.”

“In my opinion, based on the evidence provided during the investigation, that Rush Propst has violated this standard,” Howell wrote.

Tax issues

According to a Notice of Federal Tax Lien, Propst owes back taxes dating back to 2010 in the amount of $301,317.61 to the U.S. government.

A Summons of Continuing Garnishment to Satisfy State Tax Execution filed on March 4, 2019, in Colquitt County Superior Court, shows Propst owes an additional $143,097.89 to the state.

The investigation report notes there also have been eight garnishments in the last seven years, several of which include Colquitt County businesses.

“In my opinion, based on the evidence above, Rush Propst has violated Code of Ethics No. 1, Legal Compliance, and No. 4, Honesty,” Howell wrote.

Insubordination

Howell contends Propst “directly and intentionally” interfered with the hiring of Jamie Dixon as Colquitt County High principal in March 2018 when the coach set up a meeting of his own with Dixon at Starbucks following an interview with administrators, teachers, parents and community members.

“I met with Coach Propst and verbally reprimanded him for being insubordinate and interfering in the hiring process,” Howell wrote.

In May 2018, Howell met with Propst to inform him that the football team would no longer stay at a local hotel on nights before home football games.

“I explained to him that the Packer football team had been told not to return to the Hampton Inn of Moultrie because of severe behavior problems,” Howell wrote. “Coach Propst became very aggravated and enraged. He stood up from his chair in front of my desk, put both hands on the desk and yelled at me. He was told that this behavior could lead to cumulative events that could lead to future disciplinary actions.”

Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources James Harrell witnessed Propst’s behavior.

The report also noted that Propst had missed 21 half or whole school days in 2018-2019 in which he did not call in or notify anyone he was going to be absent.

All three incidents related to insubordination, failure to follow school rules and attendance issues.

Public funds

Standard 5 of the Georgia Code of Ethics for Educators relates to public funds and property.

A series of emails show that Propst stayed at the Atlanta Marriott Northwest Galleria on Saturday night, Dec. 1, 2018, and checked out on Sunday, Dec. 2, without paying the bill.

“Mr. Propst was not on official business or any professional leave with the Colquitt County School System on Saturday, December 1,” Howell wrote.

The Southeastern Conference Championship football game was played that day in Atlanta.

Propst was contacted on Dec. 20, 2018, by a representative of the hotel, requesting payment.

Propst emailed in reply, “Ms. Garcia … we are out on Christmas break until Tuesday of next week. As soon as we are back in school we will get a po [purchase order] cut for the balance. Thanks!!”

“The Colquitt County School System does not cut purchase orders to pay for a hotel room that was not approved or authorized by the system,” Howell wrote.

“In my opinion, the evidence shows this was a fraudulent attempt for reimbursement of expenses.”

Other issues

The investigation revealed a concern that Propst encouraged multisport athletes to play only football.

One prime area of concern for Howell was his belief that Propst lost control of his team and some of its coaches during the 2018 season.

Statements provided by several assistant coaches concurred that Propst often called staff meetings, but then failed to show up.

There also was concern among members of the staff that two extra coaches were brought in to work with the team during the week prior to and during the state championship game.

Coaches also reported that for several years, Propst would go into the locker room after a loss and begin cursing, screaming, blaming players and coaches.

Howell’s report especially showed concern for the conduct of the Packer football team following the 14-13 loss to Milton in December’s state championship game.

One starting player reportedly left for the locker room before the final horn. The majority of the team did not stay on the field and shake hands and congratulate the Milton players.

And there was an incident in the tunnel heading to the locker room in which a player got in the face of a Packer assistant coach, cursing and blaming him for the loss.

The locker room was in near chaos, the report says, and sheriff’s deputies were summoned to help maintain order.

“The Head Football Coach is responsible for player discipline and team behavior,” the report states. “According to most assistant coaches, discipline was not there during the championship game and most of the season. There was never any discipline handed down for any actions that took place after the game, including the player who threatened the coach.

“It starts at the top. It was not there.”

Howell finished his report by writing, “Let it be said that, in my opinion, the totality of the evidence and facts in this case support the conclusion that Rush Propst has not upheld the dignity and integrity of the education profession that the Georgia Code of Ethics for Educators demands.”

Moving forward

Propst, while being relieved of his coaching duties, remains on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation by the Professional Standards Commission, which notified Howell of its intentions on Thursday.

The PSC resolves issues of teacher certification.

Howell also tamped down rumors that the school system already had a new head football coach in mind before the Thursday board meeting.

“I have not talked to any outside coaches,” Howell said. “Period.”

He added that there may have been coaches outside the school system reaching out to current assistants about job possibilities, but he reiterated he has not talked to any.

Howell said the search will begin soon and acknowledged that with spring practice scheduled to begin in mid-to-late May, it will be imperative to name a successor to Propst as quickly as possible.

Assistant coach Troy Hobbs continues to be in charge of the daily operations of the football team.

Propst, who posted a 119-35 record over 11 seasons at Colquitt County, won two state championships with the Packers and four of his last five teams reached the state championship game.

His most recent salary was $141,000, including a base of $126,000 and a $3,000 bonus for each of the state playoff games.

This story originally appeared on the Moultrie Observer website on March 15. The Moultrie Observer, a CNHI, company, is a news partner of WALB.