COLUMBIA, Tenn. (WKRN) – Maury County Schools is evaluating their current policies in response to the ongoing AMBER Alert for Elizabeth Thomas.
A policy-review task force was launched and met for the first time Friday at Horace Porter School in Columbia.
They discussed district policies and procedures related to how parents should be notified after an incident involving a student and teacher.
The task force is comprised of employees from human resources, counseling and mental health, transportation and safety, a school principal, a sheriff’s officer, a parent, a teacher and a school board member along with the superintendent.
“While our team followed every policy outlined in the school system’s current policy in the Tad Cummins case, we were still left with a situation and a resulting outcome that was completely unacceptable to us,” Superintendent Dr. Chris Marczak said in a statement he read to the media.
He continued, “Our goal is to strengthen not only our policies but also our general awareness when enforcing appropriate, healthy student/teacher relationships.”
The task force says their goal is to strengthen school policies and make procedures consistent across the district after allegations of inappropriate behavior is reported.
“It is my intention that this task force will consider not only adjustments in written policies and procedures but also ways that we can expand our outreach, training and awareness,” Dr. Marczak said. “The serious issue at hand is making sure we have appropriate and professional distance is always maintained while also responding to the very diverse and serious issues that so many students today bring with them to school requiring moral and emotional support and encouragement.”
Emotional support and encouragement is exactly what 19-year-old Destany Parrish says she was looking for when she was Cummins’ student four years ago.
Her parents were going through a divorce and she often sought refuge in Cummins’ classroom.
“We got to a point where we talked about pretty much anything,” Parrish told News 2. “I’d stay after class and then I’d start going in before school. I really didn’t see anything wrong with it at the time. I thought I was a teacher’s pet or friend.”
She says after Elizabeth Thomas and Tad Cummins disappeared, she started to think differently about the relationship.
She wonders if Cummins was trying to groom her and wondered what would’ve happened had she been in his class longer.
Around that time, Parrish moved but she and Cummins kept in touch.
“If I hadn’t moved I wonder if it could’ve been me,” she said.
Parrish gave us some insight into Culleoka Unit School.
The K-12 school is small and close-knit.
She says boundaries between teachers and students need to be more concrete.
“It’s a small school and hard to differentiate between that stuff,” Parrish said. “But students don’t need to be sitting in a classroom with a teacher by themselves. You just never know what somebody’s intentions are.”
This all comes after Elizabeth Thomas, 15, was allegedly kidnapped by her former teacher, Tad Cummins. Thomas is a student a Culleoka Unit School where Cummins, 50, was a health science teacher before he was fired just days after the two disappeared from Columbia on March 13.
Cummins is also accused of having sexual contact with Thomas while at school after another student reportedly witnessed a kiss between them.
According to the timeline put out by Maury County Schools, the alleged kissing incident happened on Jan. 23. Eight days later on Jan. 31, the school system said they were notified by the Maury County Sheriff’s Office that Cummins was the subject of a criminal investigation.
According to Thomas’ family, they ere also notified by law enforcement of the criminal investigation regarding Cummins on Jan. 31.
However, the question still looms on when or if the school district told the Thomas family about the kissing incident. The family’s lawyer says they were never contacted by the school.
PHOTOS: AMBER Alert for Elizabeth Thomas
An AMBER Alert remains in effect for both of them and Cummins is currently listed as one of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Top 10 Most Wanted.
Neither has been heard from since they disappeared on March 13, and they were seen once on surveillance footage at an Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Walmart two days later.
Elizabeth is a 15-year-old white female with hazel eyes who stands 5 feet tall and weighs 120 pounds. She was last seen wearing a flannel shirt and black leggings.
Cummins is a white male, who stands 6 feet tall, weighs approximately 200 pounds, and has brown hair and eyes. He’s believed to be armed with two handguns.
It remains unknown if they were still traveling in Cummins’ silver Nissan Rogue with Tennessee tag 976-ZPT. Anyone with information on their whereabouts is urged to call 1-800-TBI-FIND.