Northside ISD confirms retired Lt. Colonel James Payne, a respected JROTC instructor and founder of the program at O’Connor High School, has been suspended with pay pending an investigation by the district.
“He was placed on administrative leave because he did not follow district policy when it comes to field trips,” said Pascual Gonzalez, NISD spokesman.
He said Payne should have cancelled a field trip late last month to Camp Eagle in Rocksprings with 29 students after two parents had backed out as chaperones a few days earlier, or notified the principal of the problem.
Gonzalez said the district requires three parent chaperones on field trips.
He said instead, the 48-year-old instructor, who was on the trip as well, relied on a 21-year-old airman who claimed to be writing a story about developing responsibility and leadership among JROTC students, and their retired military instructors.
Gonzalez said the airman was not authorized to be with students because he had not been cleared by the principal and did not undergo a required criminal background check.
When they returned, Gonzalez said a parent told Payne of serious allegations.
“This airman from Lackland Air Force Base had inappropriate contact, communication and behavior with Northside students,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez would not discuss the specific nature of those allegations.
Neither would Brent Boller, spokesman for Joint Base San Antonio that oversees Lackland.
Boller said the unidentified airman is not in custody and not restricted to base.
However, Boller said there is a no-contact order, barring the airman “from any contact with students, in particular students at the JROTC program at O’Connor High School.”
Boller said the airman’s case is now in the hands of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
“No idea what the potential charges could be,” Boller said.
Gonzalez said, “The allegations are against the airman, not against the teacher.”
He said if the district finds Payne violated policy, the consequences range from suspension to termination, or “everything in between.”
Gonzalez said as the JROTC instructor, Payne was responsible for the student safety and security.
“One of the ways he can do that is to have adequate supervision,” Gonzalez said.