Azle rallies behind band director

AZLE -- High school band director Ross Grant transformed a struggling program into an award-winning ensemble with 300 students and numerous awards to its credit, Grant's supporters told the school board Tuesday night.

Nearly 150 people -- students, former students, parents and others -- packed the meeting room, calling on district officials not to replace Grant before he has a chance to clear his name in a criminal case.

"Dr. Grant has transformed the band program into what it is now -- the pride of Azle," former student Megan Massey said.

Students waved signs supporting Grant and cheered the speakers.

Grant faces a charge of failing to report abuse of a child based on a complaint made by the family of a female band member. Police have said that during a band-related trip 18 months ago, the girl, then 14, told Grant that a male student made unwanted sexual contact with her and that Grant took no action. The incident was reported to police about a month ago after she told her family what had happened, authorities said.

Azle Police Chief Steve Myers said information about the boy, now 18, has been turned over to the Tarrant County district attorney's office. He could be charged with indecency with a child, Myers said.

Grant, 55, was arrested and released on bail. He was placed on paid administrative leave April 30.

The charge is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Grant has declined to comment on the case.

Seeking new director

In an interview, freshman Cassi Sellers said band members are in shock about the arrest. Grant always does his best for his students, she said.

"We want him to stay," Sellers said.

But the district is already advertising for a new band director for next year. District officials said Grant did not return a contract renewal form sent to him in March by the April 23 deadline. He has since tried to turn in the renewal but it was not accepted, said Ray Ivey, director of administration. Ivey said Grant could apply for the job if he wished.

"What does this say about how Azle ISD treats its best teachers?" said teacher Sherry Davis, whose children and grandchildren have been through the district's band program.

She and others called on district officials to renew his contract.

School board President Bill Lane, an attorney, said he certainly believes in the principle of innocent until proven guilty but said the criminal complaint had to be resolved through the justice system, not by the school board. He did not comment on the contract issue.

"You certainly don't take this job [on a school board] to vote with a mob," Lane said, a remark that drew groans of disapproval from the crowd. "You take it to do what's right."

Audience member Robert Crosley urged people not to take their anger about Grant's situation out on the girl who made the complaint, such as by spreading negative messages on the Internet.

EVA-MARIE AYALA, 817-390-7700