“I think with an issue that’s similar to what Mr. Tawes has brought forward, we are more than willing to always sit down with an employee, or stakeholders for that matter, and discuss any issue or concern or positives that those constituents or stakeholders want to bring to the table,” Ford said.
More: Teacher says Effingham principal told him Black Lives Matter doesn’t belong in schools. He resigned.
Tawes, who taught American literature, posted his resignation letter on Facebook on May 28. It all started Jan. 6 when two students had a brief exchange about the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“Why aren’t they being arrested?” one student asked. “If they were Black they would’ve been,” said another.
The next day, Jan. 7, Tawes said he was called into Principal Amie Dickerson’s office after a white student’s parents complained to her about the exchange. Tawes said his principal told him politics and controversial topics should not be discussed in class. The conversation later shifted to Black Lives Matter.
“Where the conversation really struck me was when she said, ‘Black Lives Matter has no place at school.’ That just shocked me,” Tawes said. “How can a phrase that Black students,’ their lives matter, possibly be controversial? And you know, she responded, with the common go-to: all lives matter.”
Tawes resigned Jan. 8, the day after that conversation. He continued to teach through the end of the school year. The letter has garnered more than 4,000 reactions and 2,500 shares on Facebook.
Ford said the district doesn’t have a policy against discussing politics, but does have a policy against campaigning.
“At the school, for example, you couldn’t wear a shirt campaigning for one candidate over another. We do have a policy that governs that,” Ford said, adding that principals and the school district have jurisdiction over issues that can be controversial or cause disruption.
“The principal does have some leeway in making sure that they keep their campus safe,” he said. “And in some controversial issues or controversial topics can be governed with discretion by the principal.”
Asked what he would say to a parent or student who challenges the notion that Black Lives Matter isn’t controversial and that it’s just a statement, Ford reiterated he would “sit down with any parent, any stakeholder and have conversations regarding concerns that they have.”
Ford said the district has a complaint and grievance policy in place should faculty and staff have an issue.
“We have a process in place that is guided by that policy, and it should be handled at the lowest level possible,” Ford said. “But if it’s not handled at the lowest level possible, then you certainly can move up the chain.”
Raisa is a Watchdog and Investigative Reporter for The Savannah Morning News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.