Documents suggest the former principal used a science lab and school supplies to manufacture meth on campus

JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) – Months before a principal resigned after testing positive for drugs and amid allegations he made meth on campus, newly released documents reveal teachers had suspicions .

Last week, the Arkansas School Board fined $500 and suspended former Westside High School principal Michael Graham’s license for one year.

Graham resigned from his position after school officials discovered a methamphetamine lab dump site just outside campus and after failing a subsequent drug test.

Graham’s resignation letter cited “personal reasons” for resigning.

Just hours after Region 8 News published the story online on Sunday, March 14, Westside School Superintendent Scott Gauntt released an official statement.

In it, Gauntt claimed ongoing investigations by local law enforcement and the ADE Licensing Ethics Committee prohibited him from disclosing any information regarding the allegations against Graham.

The superintendent said there was no “cover-up”.

On Friday, Gauntt released a more detailed statement on the situation.

“In response to the events leading to the resignation of former high school principal Michael Graham, please note that Westside is not a law enforcement entity. The entirety of the evidence found was completely circumstantial and could have indicated any number of people who had access to these areas of our campus,” Gauntt said. “These ‘one-pot’ production methods are very small and require very few resources to produce material. , this type of production is done in a 20 oz Coke bottle, not in the massive “meth labs” people have seen on TV What may play in the “court of public opinion” may not not operate in the “court of law”. We do not have the power to arrest anyone or lay charges. We can only remove that person from our employment, and that is exactly what we Have done.

“That being said, once an actionable event took place, the District acted quickly and decisively to eliminate the issue from our campus. At no time was any information held or evidence concealed. Immediately upon finding actionable information, the Craighead County Sheriff’s Office was notified, the JPD Drug Task Force was notified, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Ethics Commission was notified. said Gauntt. “In order to ease the minds of our customers, many of the items found were believed to be months old. It was also determined that much of the storyline took place last spring and summer when the school was under COVID lockdown. So at no time were there any students on campus when these activities were taking place. Westside has always considered the safety and well-being of our students and staff to be the most important role we play, and we will continue to do everything we can to fulfill this most important mandate.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Region 8 News received the school’s internal investigative materials, including emails and text messages between school administrators and staff, indicating that Graham was suspected of illegal activities as of February 2020.

According to a Sept. 21 statement from then-vice principal Chris George, teacher Katie Smith said Graham came to her class during prep time and inquired about “home activities for the scientific enrichment” of his children.

The science teacher suggested that Graham’s children do a strawberry DNA extraction.

Instead, she said the manager said he wanted to test the pH of household items and asked if he could have strips.

“I provided him with a bottle of Hydrion pH test strips,” Smith said in a Sept. 25 email. “He has not returned the unused bottle or strips since that date.”

Christina Campbell, chair of the science department, emailed George, Graham and director of security Ryan Tolbert regarding suspicious activity in her storage room and chemical closet.

She described finding missing glassware and white residue on counters and floors.

At the time, Graham told Tolbert that he had been in the storage area and thrown out several things.

But, he denied knowing anything about the white residue.

After speaking with George, Tolbert later said they decided there was “nothing unusual” about Graham being in the storage room and that it fell within his managerial duties.

On Sunday, September 13, Josh Parks reports finding Graham in the science lab’s storage room.

“He seemed surprised,” Parks said in an email to Gauntt.

Graham allegedly told the professional agriculture professor that he was checking an alarm in the farm building and that three deputies had just been there.

“Officer Gene told me the alarm went off,” Parks said. “But it involved the gymnasium and that there was no alarm for the farm building.”

After the meeting, Parks requested an in-person meeting with Gauntt.

George also texted the Superintendent the same day to say he had received ‘strange information that I need to get past you privately’.

Gauntt agreed to meet Parks and George.

Parks then went to Tolbert’s home that same Sunday afternoon to report his meeting with Graham.

“He said Mr. Graham was stealing chemicals,” Tolbert said. “When he [Graham] saw Mr. Parks, he was very surprised and nervous.

Parks allegedly told the director of security that he had seen Graham in the storage closet on several occasions, including late at night.

“Mr. Parks went on to tell me that some of the other science teachers also saw Mr. Graham stealing from the chemical storage cupboard,” Tolbert said. “Mr. Parks believes Mr Graham was seen at least five times in this area.

Parks reportedly told Tolbert that “some science teachers are beginning to question Mr. Graham’s unusual interest in the chemical storage cupboard”.

At approximately 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 16, a student reported finding a “suspicious object” near the pond, later identified as a 24-inch piece of clear tubing.

Tolbert and George drove to the wooded area north of the pond, where they reported finding several clear plastic bottles containing a white powdery substance, along with several cans of starter fluid.

The two men also found wash bottles and paper filters from the science lab and sodium chloride from the chemical cabinet.

“Because of my law enforcement experience, I recognized these as components of a meth lab,” Tolbert said.

George contacted school resource officer Greg Beavers, who in turn contacted the drug task force officers.

According to the documents, officers believed someone was using school chemicals and lab equipment to make methamphetamine in the science lab.

At the alleged dump, Tolbert also spotted a blue plastic Aladdin cup with “Just have fun” printed on it.

“I told Mr. George that I had seen the cup somewhere. I just couldn’t remember where,” Tolbert said.

Four days after the discovery, on September 20, Tolbert said he saw the same mugs sitting on the kitchen counter of the Graham Lake house in Henderson.

Tolbert took a photo of the mug and texted it to George the next day.

“He [Tolbert] said after he took the pictures he just walked away and said nothing about it,” George said in a Sept. 21 email.

After reporting the cut, Tolbert told administrators he was stepping back from the investigation, citing a conflict of interest.

At their September 14 meeting, Gauntt asked George to seek video evidence of any improprieties at school.

The Superintendent also told George to leave Tolbert out of the investigation as he was Graham’s brother-in-law at the time.

George said he spoke again with the science teachers who “provided the same basic statements they emailed in April” regarding the missing equipment and the white powdery substance on the floor and laboratory counters.

As George was finishing up his investigation that day, Sandy Nichols told him that she had found a box of starter fluid in a drawer.

“She said she originally threw another bottle of it in April, but it was a bottle that hadn’t been there before,” he said. “She said it could be used to make methamphetamine.”

George then reviewed security camera footage which he said showed Graham walking to school late at night on several occasions.

On September 7, a video showed Graham arriving at school around 10:25 p.m. He drove to his office, then at 10:39 p.m. he got into his truck and drove off for about 9 minutes.

George said he returned to school at 10:48 p.m. from the opposite direction and went to his office.

“He stayed there until 1:29 a.m. on September 8,” George said. ‘There were emails Mr Graham sent during this time which would suggest he was working late in his office after returning from the lake on Labor Day.

As school administrators investigated the allegations, the teachers who originally reported the suspicious activity were talking among themselves.

“He keeps going out there and playing with stuff,” Campbell said of Graham in a Sept. 13 text exchange. “We asked and he still has an excuse.”

She added that “they went so far as to remove the security cameras from the chemical storage room.”

Campbell did not specify who removed the cameras.

In a later text, she said Parks caught Graham in the storage rooms.

“Graham just emailed me saying he was over there trying to get our ELMOs working (which Ronnie did last week),” Campbell said. “He just settled down with an alibi.”

Since news of Graham’s fine and suspension broke, there have been numerous attempts to get his side of the story.

When asked Tuesday, March 16 if he had anything to say about the drug investigation and the allegations against him, Graham replied, “No comment.”

To read all documents, including emails and text messages, click here.

[Editor’s note: ELMOs are document cameras used in virtual teaching.]

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