Pine Tree ISD Board Approves Separation Agreement with AD Derek Fitzhenry; Derrick Hennigan Named Interim AD
LONGVIEW -- After six weeks of turmoil at Pine Tree ISD, Friday afternoon's special board meeting ended with the unanimous approval of a separation agreement between the district and athletic director/head football coach Derek Fitzhenry.
After about an hour and a half of executive session, the board reconvened to accept the separation agreement, which, after taxes, will pay Fitzhenry $39,024.37.
The agreement also stipulates that PTISD remove any negative comments from Fitzhenry's personnel file and keep them confidential.
"This agreement also will bring to rest that there will be no further complaints, grievances, lawsuits, or any causes of action against the board, employees, or anything with this district," said John Hardy, PTISD's attorney. "This is a way that will bring this matter to closure. ... Based upon all of the facts that this board has facing it, and the uncertainty that litigation brings, the uncertainty with costs of litigation, the certainty of the disruption of the business of the district, it's my belief as your attorney that this is an agreement that will bring all that to closure, and this district can move on to taking care of the most important asset that we have, and that's our kids."
Offensive coordinator Derrick Hennigan was named interim athletic director and head football coach. Hennigan served as PT's acting head coach in the Pirates' 64-49 win at Center on Sept. 6, when Fitzhenry was on administrative leave.
Fitzhenry's PT tenure ends after 25 games and a 6-19 record. Pine Tree went 1-9 in 2011, Fitzhenry's first season leading the Pirates, before last year's 2-7 finish. They started this season 3-1, but have lost their last two games 45-14 to Nacogdoches and Texas High entering Friday night's game at rival Hallsville.
"Our most important focus is the students in all of our athletic programs," Hennigan said in a press release. "It is time to move forward."
Superintendent T.J. Farler also issued a statement in the district's press release.
"Every aspect of a student's experience in a school is valuable, including extracurricular activities," she said in the release. "The district is dedicated to providing our students with the environment they need to be successful. We will continue to encourage our students to participate in a wide variety of extracurricular programs that support our academic programs."
Friday's special meeting was the third board meeting since Sept. 9, when a six-hour meeting that included two long closed sessions ended with no action taken regarding Fitzhenry, who at the time was on administrative leave because of an alleged incident that occurred at halftime of the Pirates' season-opening 42-38 win against Van.
The next day (Tuesday, Sept. 10), Pine Tree ISD issued a press release detailing the "conditional reinstatement" of Fitzhenry. The conditions were not disclosed at the time and have not been disclosed since.
[For more information on the almost six-hour meeting that occurred Sept. 9, click this link.]
An athletic handbook policy change that allowed a senior football player to play despite a May felony arrest caused Monday's executive session-heavy board meeting.
According to KLTV 7, the Pine Tree High School Athletic Handbook rule regarding eligibility of players charged with a felony was changed Oct. 2 without administrative approval to allow them to play as long as that player pled not guilty or a formal hearing had taken place. The player in question then played in Pine Tree’s 45-14 loss to Nacogdoches on Oct. 4, and the policy was changed back Oct. 8 to its original verbiage flatly prohibiting recipients of felony charges from participating in athletic events.
Friday's meeting was scheduled Tuesday afternoon after a five-hour board meeting Monday night ended with no action taken regarding Fitzhenry despite two lengthy closed sessions. PTISD placed a special meeting agenda on its website that had "consultation with attorney regarding settlement agreement with athletic director and resignation of athletic director" as the item to be discussed in closed session, the fifth such session in the third board meeting since Sept. 9.