The Houston County School Board voted Monday night to delay a decision on several Ashford High School teachers who are embroiled in a group message controversy that resulted in the teachers being put on administrative leave in mid November.
The board, which convened in an executive session for more than an hour, will meet about the teachers again on Wednesday at 5 p.m.
Superintendent David Sewell cited the board attorney’s legal advice to tailor the wording of his official recommendation as grounds to table the action “in interest of due process.”
“As much as I hate it, I was ready for it to be over,” Sewell said.
Sewell said he would bring his official recommendation before board members for a vote at the meeting.
Murmurs of frustration from concerned community members, who stayed for the meeting expecting a verdict to be announced, pervaded the packed boardroom.
Erica Williams, a mother of a girl mentioned in the Ashford teachers’ group message leaked online, said she was hoping that board members would discuss the teachers’ behavior.
“They keep putting it off,” she said.
Franklin Jones and Teretha James, who were both representing the Wiregrass chapter of the NAACP, shared concern that board member Chris Lasseter was present in the executive session.
Lasseter, whose wife is an Ashford High School teacher, did not attend the executive session at the Nov. 18 board meeting.
Jones and James said they were unsure if Lasseter's presence in the executive session might hinder other board members from speaking freely about the suspended teachers.
“We think he should recuse himself rather than abstain from voting,” Jones, who is president of the Wiregrass chapter, said. “This is putting undue pressure on the other board members because he’s sitting there; he’s their friend and cohort and they can’t discuss freely what they need to discuss with him sitting there.”
Per the state’s open meetings law, all board action, including votes, must be done in an open meeting.
“We’re concerned about the culture going on at Ashford High School,” Jones said, referring to the NAACP’s interest in the personnel matter. “They need to make a decision, because once they make a decision, we’ll make a decision.”
Jones said the chapter is concerned with representing the children who are affected by the culture at Ashford High School, which is a reflection of the entire school system.
Sewell placed several Ashford High School teachers, who have not been identified by the school system, on paid administrative leave on 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 commented on students’ sex lives and intelligence, and referred to one student with the n-word in one instance.
The screen-recording quickly moved on Facebook, racking up several thousand views and shares. The incident reached the headlines of multiple state and national news organizations.
Central office staffers, including Sewell, conducted an investigation and deemed allegations against the teachers credible.
It is unclear at this time how many teachers are being held responsible in the controversy.
Their personnel hearings were originally scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 20, but were delayed by Sewell to allow more time for their defense, representatives from the Alabama Education Association, to prepare.
According to the Houston County Sheriff’s Office, the student who leaked the messages is not facing criminal charges. Sewell declined to comment on whether the student was disciplined by school administrators.
Last Friday, advocates with “The Ordinary People Society,” other nonprofit leaders and Ashford parents held a rally outside of the Houston County Board of Education offices to demand justice for the students affected by the message chain.