Protesters rallied for the termination of several Ashford High School teachers ensnared in a group text message controversy at the Houston County Board of Education on Friday.
More than 20 people, consisting of local advocates and parents of AHS students, gathered at the school system’s central office parking lot, holding signs in protest of the alleged inaction of the Houston County School Board.
Signs read, “Exposing the truth is not a crime,” in reference to allegations that the student who leaked the messages was under scrutiny for misconduct. Others read, “Teen pregnancy is not a crime” and “I can walk … and chew gum” in reference to texts gossiping about students’ sex lives and intelligence.
Rodreshia Russaw, co-director of local advocacy organization The Ordinary People Society, organized the rally to bring awareness to the issue.
“We feel like they’re trying to downplay the actions of the teachers,” Russaw said. “This is not a black or white thing. This is a right thing. … We also want the dignity of these students to be restored.”
Venissa Wilson, the aunt of one of the students mentioned in the text chain, said students were supposed to have a meeting with teachers, but it was canceled. According to Wilson, the students and parents have not received formal apologies from the school board or teachers.
Wilson said she is seeking legal counsel to determine the next steps to get justice for her nephew and other Ashford students.
“I’m here to stand up for mine and the rest of them,” she said.
A parent of another student mentioned in the messages said her child has been negatively affected by the teachers’ comments that have been made public.
The conflict has caught the attention of the president of the local NAACP and Dechauna Tensley, president of Mothers of Black Boys, who said she was marching against systematic injustice.
“It’s a privilege to be a teacher. Being a teacher is not a job ’cause you’re a public servant not only for yourself and your community, but you’re a voice for those children,” she said. “Teachers are very important. You’re sewn into the lives of these children. Teachers make differences. This is unacceptable; that’s why I’m here.”
Protesters, led by TOPS founder Kenneth Glasgow, chanted “Save our children!” “Power of the people!” and “No justice, no peace!” while marching around the block and through the Board of Education parking lot.
The teachers, who are represented by the Alabama Education Association, were placed on paid administrative leave Nov. 18 until their hearings.
The texts became public when one of the teachers gave her phone to a student, who saw the text-message thread and screen-recorded the information.
Superintendent David Sewell said Friday that he did not want to comment on the ongoing case against the Ashford teachers until their hearings, which are set for 5 p.m. Monday at the board’s scheduled work session and regular meeting.
He said he appreciated the fact that the protesters were orderly.