Alabama Teachers Who Sent Vile, Racist Messages About Students Receive Marginal Punishment
One text about a student read, “That n***a so slow he can’t walk and chew gum.”
Update (December 12, 2019): Three teachers were suspended without pay for just 10 days from an Alabama school after a racist text chain was leaked to the internet last month.
The Houston County School Board announced on Wednesday that Tambria McCardle, Kim Worsham and Julee Lasseter would be suspended from Ashford High School.
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In the leaked chat, McCardle, Worsham, Lasseter and three other Alabama teachers repeatedly referred to Black students as n****rs and used offensive language about transgender students. They called one Black student stupid and made jokes about students who may be pregnant. The teachers named the chat "Bad A* B*’s."
One text read, “That n***a so slow he can’t walk and chew gum.”
A student discovered the texts after a teacher gave him her phone after school in November. When he found the slur-ridden text chain, he took a video of it and posted it to Facebook where it gained a massive amount of attention.
Superintendent David Sewell, who is seeking reelection, has spent weeks working to protect the teachers and hinted that the student who leaked the texts could be punished instead of the teachers.
The Houston County Sheriff’s Office was later forced to confirm that the child who leaked the messages wouldn't face any charges.
The Houston County Board of Education, which includes Lasseter's husband, voted 5-1 for the lax punishment, with Sewell arguing that their decision was based on the advice of lawyers. Vince Wade, Ricky Moore, Marty Collins, Gary Cox and Scott Thomas all voted for the punishment while David Hollinger voted against it because he said it was too weak. Chris Lasseter abstained from voting because his wife was involved in the text chain.
Parents, community members and the local NAACP chapter were furious at the board's decision to allow the suspended teachers to stay on while letting three others get away without punishment.
“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. To say it wasn’t serious enough of a violation to terminate them is wrong,” Franklin Jones, president of Dothan’s chapter of the NAACP, told the Associated Press.
In an interview with WTVY, Rhema Rock Church pastor J. Curtis Harvey Jr. said, “It's wrong and [the teachers] should have been fired yesterday, period. When those private comments were made public, they showed the whole world their hearts. These teachers have disqualified themselves from serving in that capacity. These people are responsible for cultivating our students. We don’t deserve this.”
Sewell put the six teachers in the chat on paid administrative leave on November 18. He added that in addition to the suspensions, all teachers would undergo "diversity training early next year." He has repeatedly claimed that there are no rules against what the teachers did, preventing the board from firing them.
The Alabama Education Association has vigorously defended the teachers with representative Rhonda Hicks telling The Dothan Eagle that the teachers had a right to privacy and free speech.
Concerned activists and parents may turn their attention to state representatives who have already signaled that they may step in to remedy the weak punishment handed down by the local school board.
“We are aware of the situation and are looking into details of what happened (in Ashford),” Dr. Michael Sibley, director of communications for the Alabama State Department of Education, said in an interview with WSFA12.
“If there is an offense egregious enough, and the local system does not do anything, we do have the authority to examine someone's teaching certificates,” Sibley later told WTVY.
The suspensions started on Thursday, but the mother of Anastasia Williams, who was named in the chat, was not happy about the board's decision.
"We thought that they [were] going to get fired, but they didn't get that, so it's like a slap on the wrist to me," said Erica Williams.
Other parents who spoke to a number of local news outlets said the school has seen racist incidents in the past decade that have never been addressed.
Ashford High School graduate Jimmy Weems told WSFA12 that the entire situation would have been handled differently if the races of both sides were different.
“If it had been six Black teachers and if it had been white students they [disrespected] they would have been fired on the spot,” he said.
Original (November 19, 2019): Teachers at Ashford High School in Alabama are being accused of maintaining a private group chat with explicit and racist text messages while discussing students, WDHN reported.
Portions of the leaked group chat titled “Bad A B’s,” show teachers speaking about a student possibly being pregnant. They also implied that the student was quiet and wasn’t smart.
“I guess she mime sex,” one teacher wrote.
The teachers allegedly wrote about other students’ sex lives and also spoke about a former student, calling him a racist slur.
“That n***a so slow he can’t walk and chew gum,” one teacher said, according to WDHN.
Other portions of the leaked texts show one teacher saying she wants to “b slap” a person known as “RK.” “RK” has not been confirmed as a student or another school employee.
An unnamed student reportedly leaked the messages. The student said he saw the chat after a teacher gave him her phone during school hours. He then screen-recorded the messages and sent the video out to other people.
The teachers involved have not been identified due to potential legal issues about how the texts were leaked.
Several of the teachers in the chat, however, have been suspended, Dothan Eagle reported.
Since the leak, parents and students have gathered outside the school to protest the teachers' conduct and to demand action.
“Two of the teachers that’s in the group chat, I can’t believe that they was actually in the group chat because I’d never think they’ll be like that, but the other ones, I think they’ll do it,” said Venissa Wilson, one of the student's aunt.
Two of the students told WDHN they were upset about what the teachers said. Only one of the students has received an apology from a teacher that spoke about her in the group chat.
“She was like she didn’t mean anything that she said or anything like that,” the student said.
Another student said he’s seen other racist incidents at the school.
“I don’t like this school, period,” he said. “They racist, all of these folks racist.”
The Houston County School Board has not announced what the future holds for those teachers, according to WTVY, although Superintendent David Sewell said he’d have more information this week.
“There are a lot of gray areas when it comes to anything that takes place on a cell phone,” Sewell said, according to TribLive. “I hate that it happened. We try to put policies and procedures in place to make sure things like this don’t happen. We’ll go back and try to reinforce.”