The Houston County School Board voted to suspend three Ashford High School teachers for 10 days without pay nearly a month after a text message chain about students was leaked on social media.
The messages, which included remarks about students’ sex lives and intelligence and the “n” word in one instance, sparked controversy online, with many outraged over the comments and others defending the teachers’ right to a private conversation.
Superintendent David Sewell recommended the punishment for the teachers — Tambria McCardle, Kim Worsham and Julee Lasseter — which will go into effect Thursday, after more than three weeks of paid administrative leave.
He also said that all Houston County School employees will undergo diversity training at the beginning of 2020.
School board members voted in favor of the resolution 5-1. Voting for it were Vince Wade, Ricky Moore, Marty Collins, Gary Cox and Scott Thomas. David Hollinger voted against the resolution, and Chris Lasseter abstained. Lasseter’s wife is one of the accused.
Hollinger said he did not feel like the recommended action on the table was severe enough.
The motion, read aloud at a called school board meeting Wednesday night, was met by scoffs from community members who filled the packed boardroom for a second time this week. Many publicly commented that the punishment was a mere slap on the wrist.
“It was a private conversation, but it was made public. For teachers, adults, to say something like this, you can’t turn a blind eye,” said Franklin Jones, president of Dothan’s chapter of the NAACP. “To say it wasn’t serious enough of a violation to terminate them is wrong.”
Sewell said he sought the legal advice from the board’s attorney as well as many other education lawyers around the state to help make a determination; none recommended termination.
Rodreshia Russaw, co-director of local advocacy organization “The Ordinary People Society,” said the outcome will spur recourse from the nonprofit and other state and national organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center, and other criminal justice reform and grass-roots organizations.
“The teachers made a clear point when they named the group the ‘bad a--teachers’; this was not a mishap,” she said to the board. “Let’s not forget there was motives and intentions there.”
Russaw said that TOPS will look at getting the students legal representation and at long-term advocacy as well as continuing education for the community at large.
Erica Williams, whose child’s pregnancy was discussed in the teachers’ texts, was disappointed in the board’s decision.
“I thought they’d be fired,” she said. “They need to be transferred or something.”
Rhema Rock Church pastor J. Curtis Harvey Jr. said he and others present at Wednesday’s meeting will continue to work for the students.
“When those private comments were made public, they showed the whole world their hearts,” he said. “These teachers have disqualified themselves from serving in that capacity. These people are responsible for cultivating our students. We don’t deserve this.”
Jones shared similar sentiments with the board, stating “It’s on now, y’all.” He said later that the NAACP will seek action against the board.
Sewell said he will try to work with the schools to change students’ schedules so they do not have to be in class with the teachers in the controversy.
The school board originally met Monday to talk about the good name and character of the teachers, but voted to delay a decision on the case until Wednesday after all members convened in executive session for over an hour to deliberate their fate.
Sewell placed several Ashford High School teachers on paid administrative leave Nov. 18 after a student screen-recorded and subsequently leaked private texts from a teacher’s phone in a group chat titled “Bad A Bs” to others.
In the messages made public on social media, six teachers were involved in texts about students. One was identified as a substitute teacher and another does not currently work with the school district, according to Sewell.
The screen-recording caught fire on Facebook, racking up several thousand views and shares. The incident reached the headlines of multiple state and national news organizations.
According to the Houston County Sheriff’s Office, the student who leaked the messages is not facing charges.
Sewell declined to comment on whether the student was disciplined by the school administration.