By Sid Riley
Last Thursday’s meeting of the Jackson County School Board was a memorable event. The first part of the session involved giving several awards and special recognition for student and school accomplishments. This is the kind of activity the Board enjoys, since it deals with the positive aspects of the organization.
However at this meeting the bright, positive spirit of this occasion was tempered by a dark stormy cloud that waited in the doorway as the leadership of Jackson County’s black community awaited their turn on the agenda.
Next, the agenda moved to the improvement plans for each school for the coming year. Each principal described their action plan for improvement, again in a very positive, enthusiastic vein. Meanwhile, the dark storm cloud in the outer hallway loomed even larger.
Finally, Chairman Terry Nichols moved to the portion of the agenda that dealt with employee discipline…….The Greg Howard incident. As the principals and parents of bright students exited the room, their chairs were quickly filled with black leaders and parents.
First, outgoing School Superintendent Danny Sims read his recommendation to the board in regards to administrative action that should be taken against Mr. Howard. He recommended two weeks unpaid suspension, a permanent negative entry into his personnel record, transfer away from teaching children and into the Adult Education program, loss of all coaching activities, and requiring remedial counseling.
Eight attendees had filled out the required request for the right to speak to the board on the subject, for three minutes each. And speak they did.
As a group they made a very passionate, logical, and well delivered presentation of their feelings to the School Board. It began with a written statement from the local NAACP organization, delivered by current President Richard Patterson. The document stated that "Racial discrimination will not be tolerated", and "The school board must recognize a zero tolerance policy in the matter of racial prejudice."
This was followed by a series of presentations by angry church leaders, educators, and parents. They all demanded dismissal of Mr. Howard. "Mr. Sims, do your Job!" Elected members of the School Board, do your job!" "As a parent I will not tolerate having my child subjected to this type of action while she is at school!" These and many other piercing, pointed comments were thrust at the listening members of the School Board.
The group’s presentation ended with Mr. Crump, from the Law Firm of Benjamin Crump, Parks, and Crump of Tallahassee. Mr. Crump cited legal precedents where other school boards in the state have been faced with similar situations. "In this incident it was a premeditated, deliberate act, not merely reactive. This type of act should warrant dismissal and loss of teaching credentials", he explained.
Then it was time for the vote. Board member Kenny Griffin began by asking Supt. Sims if he still stood by his original recommendation or wished to modify it. "I stand by my original recommendations", a tight lipped, stern faced Sims responded.
Next the board asked their legal advisor Frank Bondurant, what authority the board had in this matter. He explained that the Board could only establish policy, and the Superintendent had sole authority over personnel actions. "The board can only vote to accept or to deny his recommendation. If they deny the recommendation he can then modify that action and resubmit it to the Board, but ultimately the decision is his", Bondurant stated.
The vote was to accept the recommendation, passing by a 3-2 margin. Board members Kenny Griffin and Charlotte Gardner voted against the recommendation. As the angry black contingent left the meeting room they shouted back "This isn’t the end of this matter!" and "You will be hearing more from us about this!"
This writer asked Mr. Crump what the next planned step would be. He responded, "We will now take the matter to the State Department of Education officials and to Governor Crist."