During the public agenda portion of Monday evening’s work session, residents — in various ways and various levels of emotion — called for the Muscogee County School Board to fire the teacher who used the N-word while trying to teach against using racial slurs.
Eleven of the 13 people who spoke about the incident favored termination over the Muscogee County School District’s decision to suspend the teacher for two days without pay, reassign her to a non-classroom position, put a letter of reprimand in her personnel file and require her to attend “cultural competency” training.
Michelle Dovishaw, the only white person who spoke during the public agenda, compared this incident to the Montravious Thomas case.
Montravious, then 13, was a MCSD student when contracted behavior specialist Bryant Mosley allegedly body-slammed him “no less than” five times on Sept. 12, 2016, in the alternative education AIM Program at the Edgewood Student Services Center. Staff failed to get him medical treatment and sent him home on a bus, according to the $25 million lawsuit filed on Montravious’ behalf. His right leg was amputated below the knee Oct. 18.
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More than a year later, the Columbus Police Department still hasn’t finished its investigation. Dovishaw, who said her sons are black, asked, “How can we as parents tell our kids there is justice and justice for all?”
Dovishaw said, “I implore this board of elected officials … to stand on the side of justice and fire that teacher and bring the GBI in for a proper investigation for Montravious Thomas.”
After folks in the audience cheered Dovishaw’s comments, board chairwoman Pat Hugley Green of District 1 asked them to hold their cheers until after the speaker is finished.
Nikole Pollard said if the board fires the teacher, “this will show that no child in the Muscogee County School District will have to go through this.”
Gregory Haynes said, “We live in a city that’s still divided, we live in a country that’s still divided, and we’re dividing it further.”
Stephanie Benison also referred to the Montravious case when she asked, “Why should we continue to wait for the police and other parties to complete their investigation when they, you and I know the truth?”
Chris Benison told the board, “Your actions prove you have no value for our children.”
LaTala Cofield said reassigning the teacher “is not an acceptable solution” because it’s like keeping a bad apple that could spoil the bunch.
Shamanique Flint said, “When you’re such a large part of framing young minds, there’s no room for error. … For a teacher to say those words to a child, I’m just disgusted.”
Flint told the board that she and others will continue to call for the teacher’s termination until it’s done. “Every time you meet,” she said, “we’ll be here.”
Equisha Frazier, the mother of one of the children who heard the teacher use the N-word, said she is tired of dealing with this issue, more than a month after it happened.
“My baby was the victim; this lady was not the victim,” she said.
Frazier told the board she and her husband and the parents of another child involved retained a lawyer “because y’all didn’t want to do what is right. … You’re not going to humiliate my child; you’re going to tell the truth. … I want this to end. You terminate this lady. I don’t care about her character; it’s what she did that day.”
She added that her husband couldn’t join her at the work session because he already has taken too many days off from work while dealing with this issue.
Their lawyer, Katonga Wright, said the student is proud to have been educated in MCSD and had “excellent teachers” but if the teacher isn’t going to teach anymore, “then she shouldn’t be here anymore.”
As she did in a news conference Friday, Wright hinted at a civil rights lawsuit. “I would hate for a federal investigation to commence,” she said.
Antonio Carter, publisher and editor of Black Voices News and BlackVoicesNews.com, addressed the nine-member board’s four black representatives, all women. He called them “beautiful” and “brilliant,” but he blasted them as he noted white board members John Thomas of District 2 and Frank Myers of District 8 have been the board’s most vocal advocates for the families of Montravious and the 9-year-old girls who heard the N-word from their teacher.
Carter said the board members should have told the superintendent that if he didn’t fire the teacher, then he should be fired.
“You should not have a relationship with anyone that means more to you than your relationship with your own people,” Carter said.
Alyssa Williams said she does what she can to ensure her children are protected. “When we send our children to school,” she said, “we expect the people they are entrusted with to do the same.”
Williams asked the board to approve Thomas’ proposal to establish a “zero tolerance” policy against racial slurs. “I believe each of you has good values or you wouldn’t be on the board,” she said. “Make the right decision.”
Theresa El-Amin, regional director of the Southern Anti-Racism Network, was the only person who spoke against firing the teacher.
“Using progressive discipline as the best practice in fair employment for all is what should be done,” El-Amin said. “A clumsy attempt at teaching tolerance should not result in the termination of an otherwise good teacher.”
El-Amin, referring to the MCSD driver who was fired for leaving a child unattended on a bus, added, “All workers deserve fairness, including bus drivers, not mob justice.”
The Rev. Ralph Huling, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a group of local black pastors, didn’t speak for or against the administration’s disciplinary action. Instead, he said it is never appropriate to use racial slurs and the IMA is praying for all parties involved in “this divisive matter.”
“We have purposely been silent because we did not want to be hasty in our decision-making and ensure we have done our due diligence as the Bible states in Ecclesiastes,” said Huling, reading a statement from his cellphone before the meeting. “Do not be quick to speak with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God. For God is in heaven, and you are on the earth; therefore may your words be few.
“Therefore our position is: It is never appropriate for anyone to use offensive or derogatory language or phrases,” he continued. “As the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, we stand for spiritual righteousness and treating others as we want to be treated. Our prayers are with all parties involved in this matter and our community.”
After the residents were finished speaking, Green said, “We heard your cry. We absolutely do not accept any racial language.” But the only staff member the board hires and fires is the superintendent, Green said. She also noted tenured teachers are protected by the Fair Dismissal Act.
Myers, however, disputed Green’s assertion. He said, “The idea that we don’t have the power to hire and fire anybody but the superintendent is ridiculous.”
The Muscogee County School District announced Sept. 29 that the Reese Road Leadership Academy teacher who admitted to using the N-word on Sept. 1 had been suspended for two days without pay, reassigned to an undisclosed non-classroom position, issued a letter of reprimand that was placed in her personnel file, and required her to attend “cultural competency” training.
Also in the Sept. 29 news release, MCSD said its investigation of the Sept. 1 incident concluded Sept. 26 and found that the teacher used “a racial slur in an attempt to explain to a group of elementary school students that this same word should not be tolerated. The teacher’s choice of language, though intended to teach a lesson about racial tolerance, was misguided. … A teacher should never use a racial slur or expletive in the course of teaching students not to use the same word. MCSD does not tolerate the use of racial slurs in any context.”
All of which has the teacher and her family, according to her lawyer, Bettina Davies, under police protection “as a result of the threats and half-truths that have been perpetuated in social media and elsewhere.”
Wright, the lawyer for some of the parents involved in this dispute, conducted a news conference Friday, during which she called for “nothing shy of a termination of this teacher. Their concerns are that these types of racial slurs or behavior toward young children in our community will continue if (the teacher) remains a part of Muscogee County School District.”
The teacher, in a statement to the district emailed to the Ledger-Enquirer on Sept. 29, recalled saying to the student, “If someone called me a white cracker, I would be offended. If someone called you a black n-----, that would be offensive. If someone called my biracial cousin mixed girl, that would be offensive.”
During the Muscogee County School Board’s meeting Sept. 18, the parents of the student the teacher was talking to, Equisha and Nathan Frazier, urged the Muscogee County School Board to fire the teacher. They also gave a different version of what the teacher told their daughter.
Mr. Frazier said the teacher was responding to something that another girl directed at his daughter and told her in the presence of another black student and a white student, “At least she didn’t refer to you as a dumb, black n-----,” Mr. Frazier said. “And I’m saying it exactly how she said it to my child.”
The Georgia Professional Standards Commission confirmed last week that an ethics complaint has been filed against the teacher. The Fraziers acknowledged Friday that they filed the complaint. The commission has the authority to sanction a certified educator in any of the following ways: warning, reprimand, suspension or revocation of teaching license.
Staff writer Alva James-Johnson contributed to this report.