By Clint Confehr
Senior Staff Writer
For the second time in as many months, the Marshall County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has asked questions and raised concerns about the treatment of African-Americans working for the school system here.
It was exactly two months ago on Thursday that County Schools Director Jackie Abernathy attended a gathering in the First National Bank conference room where, on that Saturday morning, local NAACP President Gary Davis spoke, as did Tennessee NAACP Division Chair Gloria Sweetlove.
With a full room - nearly 70 people were attending Thursday night in the school's central office meeting room - Davis refrained from naming the educators in circumstances that Abernathy recognized. In a counter statement e-mailed to the school board and others, she replied to points raised by Davis.
"The most qualified employee in the school system was demoted to a physical education teacher rather than elevated to a position of higher responsibility," Davis' prepared statement says.
Dr. Patsey Thomas, was a supervisor of attendance who had other responsibilities at the central office. She is now teaching PE at Lewisburg Middle School.
"There are three employees with doctorate degrees in the school system," Abernathy's Friday statement says. "There are two Caucasians and one African-American [and] all three are in classroom positions," she went on to say.
"I am not sure what criteria is being considered to determine 'the most qualified' by Davis," the system's director said.
Previously, Abernathy mentioned Thomas' teaching certificate when Thomas' new job became known and was the subject of discussion in the community. Thomas applied for, but was not hired for, a job at the central office. Since her certification as a teacher is in physical education, the job at LMS was a job for which she qualified.
Reorganization of the central office staff has been presented as a way to reduce the system's budget and Davis' prepared remarks state, "...most of the savings were the direct result of three African-American females being either demoted or released."
Noting Davis' statement that three black women working at the central office who were released or demoted, Abernathy replies: "There were actually 10 employees no longer in their positions at the central office. Two females were dismissed - one African-American and one Caucasian in April. One African-American female was not rehired in June and one Caucasian rehired in June. Four Caucasian females and one male were demoted, or transferred to other positions with lower pay. Two African-American females were transferred to other positions with lower pay. One of those [moved] to an administrative position when, in reality, without an actual teaching license [she] could have been a non-hire since tenure is only granted ... [to] ... certified teacher[s]."
Davis also states there were "rumors" before the central office personnel chart was reconfigured. Abernathy replied jobs "were posted and applicants were interviewed by a committee comprised of a diverse population."
Applicants were asked the same questions, ranked, and there were discussions by committees that made recommendations to the director, Abernathy said.
"Minorities who participated on the panels included Deborah Wade, Linda Williams-Lee, Nicky Randolph and Shonda Sparrow," the director said.
When Davis read his statement to the board, he was calm, did not raise his voice and, after various paragraphs, he repeated the statement "No justice, no peace."
"These accusations are unfounded and were presented in a public meeting and in a threatening manner," Abernathy said. "I have attended every meeting that I have been asked to attend including a meeting with state leaders of the NAACP."
The state NAACP leaders' meeting included an open discussion between the director and more than a few educators who are African-Americans, several of whom Abernathy has known for decades.
Two months ago, the NAACP stated, "There are no minority male administrators," and Abernathy replied, "There are currently no African-American male teachers who have the state endorsement for working as an administrator..."
Friday she listed "new minorities hired this summer" in positions of authority. They include the principal at Marshall Elementary School, the head football coach at Marshall County High School and a Hispanic at Forrest School. There are 10 new minorities in the positions she listed.
As of Thursday, African-Americans comprised 7.7 percent of the student population in county schools. African-Americans comprise 15.3 percent of the central office staff where nine percent of the supervisors are African-Americans. Six percent of the system's teachers are minorities.
(NOTE: There is something of a "he said, she said" aspect to the exchange between the NAACP president here and the county schools director, so both statements are presented as obtained in a separate posting on this web site. They may be found by clicking the tab marked opinions across the top of the home page.)