By Sarah Campbell
CHINA GROVE – The South Rowan High School principal suspended with pay pending an investigation after an assault allegation by a student was tight-lipped Tuesday, but he seemed optimistic about his future.
“Hopefully, it will be taken care of soon and everything will be back to normal,” Dr. Don Knox said.
Knox declined to comment further. When asked if he had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf, his answer was a simple “no.”
Tanner Hoke, the class of 2012’s valedictorian, accused Knox of getting physical with him during a conversation in May.
Attempts to reach Hoke Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Hoke filed a complaint against Knox on Sept. 12, telling the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office that Knox assaulted him in a hallway near the cafeteria after he approached the principal with a question about graduation.
Hoke has alleged Knox grabbed him near the “opening of his jacket” and pulled Hoke toward him.
The claim was deemed “unfounded” following several weeks of investigation.
The school system suspended Knox on Oct. 5, but is mum about its own investigation.
Several formers students left comments on the Post’s website Tuesday, accusing Knox of having “anger issues” and being disrespectful toward students by mocking them.
But two students contacted by the Post said they were surprised about the assault allegation.
“I was shocked because I have never had a bad experience with him,” said Caleb Helms, the class of 2012’s salutatorian. “I was student body president last year and I was a very active member of the SGA (Student Government Association) all four years, so I worked closely with Dr. Knox and had to go to him with a lot of questions and requests.
“No matter what the circumstances, he was understanding and never got angry with me.”
Helms said he witnessed Knox get angry at times, but he never lost control of his temper.
“I never saw him get physically violent,” he said. “Even at the worst I’d seen him, he was always respectful and kind to the student even though they hadn’t done something right.”
David Wilson, who graduated in 2010, said he considered Knox stern, but not aggressive.
The fact that Judd Starling was the principal at South two years prior to Knox’s arrival in 2008 has likely shaped the way students viewed him, Wilson said.
“Mr. Starling was the cool principal who would let you get away with things,” he said. “I feel like when Knox came in people were not used to following rules.”
Wilson said there were times when he found himself in trouble and ended up in Knox’s office, but Knox always seemed disappointed rather than angry.
He’s not sure whether the allegation is valid, but he finds it odd.
“It seems bizarre that a professional whose career would be on the line would do something like that for no reason,” he said.
Helms said he hadn’t heard anything about the incident that prompted the assault allegation at school.
“It seems very uncharacteristic of Dr. Knox and I really honestly do not think it happened,” he said. “I’m not calling Tanner a liar, it’s just not something I would see him doing.”
Helms said he hopes Knox will be able to return to South Rowan.
“He was a great principal when I was there,” he said. “He’s done a lot of good things for the school, I would hate to see him go.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
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