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PG officials stand by discipline decision

PG officials stand by discipline decision

Second hearing will be today

March 14th, 2019 by Jennifer Middleton in Texarkana News

Amanda Bowers sorts through emails and documents from Pleasant Grove Middle School on Tuesday in Texarkana, Texas. Bowers filed a Level 2 grievance with PGISD over her daughter's punishment for lending her school login to a friend, who sent KKK photos to two black students in February of this year.

Photo by Hunt Mercier /Texarkana Gazette.

A Level 2 grievance hearing is set for today at the request of Amanda Bowers, the mother of a Pleasant Grove Middle School student whose email account was used by another student to send a racially-charged photo to two black students. Bowers said she is not satisfied with the ruling of the Level 1 grievance hearing that was held March 8.

In the Level 1 grievance, she alleged that her daughter's civil rights were violated and that the three days of out-of-school suspension and an additional seven days of in-school suspension were an excessive punishment, as her daughter, Abigail, did not send the email, although she allowed two students to use her login. She contends the additional seven days of in-school suspension were in retaliation for her asking questions about the incident.

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On March 12, Linda Erie, PGMS principal, sent Bowers a letter with the determination of the hearing that was attended by administration including herself, Assistant Principal Jon Tomberlain, Dean of Students Kristen Giles and the district's attorney, Wes Jordan. In the letter, Erie denied all of Bowers' allegations and maintains that Abigail violated the Student Code of Conduct and misused district technology resources.

The letter also states, "The discipline assigned to your student for her violations of the Student Code of Conduct and the Student Network Responsibility Contract was reasonable and appropriate in light of the factors required to be considered when imposing student discipline in accordance with the Student Code of Conduct and PGISD Board Policy FO(Local), including, but not limited to the seriousness of the offense and the potential effect of the misconduct on the school environment."

Bowers said she did not have a problem with the ruling's emphasis and re-emphasis on the improper sharing of her daughter's login information. "I have a problem with how the school conducted the investigation," she said. "I have a problem with the lack of a disciplinary grid or guideline, and I have a problem with the school determining my daughter had nothing to do with the content, but still punishing her for it. Or was the punishment in retaliation? I'm willing to listen to a better explanation."

The incident happened on Feb. 8 when Abigail allowed two students to use her login information in theater class. The student who sent the KKK photo was assigned 60 days in the Disciplinary Alternative Education Program, Bowers said, and the other student did not receive any discipline. School district officials have not confirmed this, nor are they answering reporter questions as a matter of policy.

Bowers filed complaints Feb. 20 with the Texas Education Agency alleging educator misconduct against Erie and Assistant Principal Jon Tomberlain. She also filed complaints with the American Civil Liberties Union and the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. She said that the Office of Civil Rights has contacted her and the other two have not.

The hearing findings say there were no violation of district policy or procedure in the handling of the investigation. It also addresses Bowers' assertion that there is no disciplinary grid and that the current policy gives the district "total autonomy."

"The imposition by which the Campus Behavior Coordinator of a grid-based punishment system which does not take into account the individual circumstances of each occurrence of student misbehavior and the other factors which must be considered under the current Student Code of Conduct and current Board Policy would violate such Board Policies, and the imposition of any such system would require an amendment to existing PGISD Board Policy and the Student Code of Conduct by the board of trustees and thus outside my authority as a campus principal to grant," officials said in response to the charge. It also says that the record of Abigail's discipline for the occurrence will not be purged as Bowers requested in the Level 1 grievance.

Bowers said she was not represented by counsel at the hearing. "I was summoned on a Thursday afternoon for a meeting Friday afternoon and given no notice their legal counsel would be present," she said. "I shouldn't have to pay a lawyer thousands of dollars to tell the school how to do their job."

Bowers posted about the hearing on her Facebook page afterwards. Pam Bradford, principal of PG Intermediate School where Bowers' son attends, replied to the post, writing, "And it continues!!! She is certified crazy!!"

When Bowers emailed Interim Superintendent Roger Hailey about the Facebook post, he replied that Bradford's statement was not "a statement of or by Pleasant Grove Independent School District," adding, "The district administration strongly disapproves of the Facebook post by Mrs. Bradford."

Hailey's email to Bowers concluded by saying any disciplinary action against Mrs. Bradford would be administered in accordance with policies of the board of trustees.

Bradford has been with the district since 2002.

Board policy states states that all employees shall be held to the same professional standards in their public use of electronic communication as for any other public conduct and that termination could be considered as a disciplinary action. "While acting in the course of employment," policy states, "an employee shall not engage in prohibited harassment, including sexual harassment, of other persons, including board members, vendors, contractors, volunteers, or parents."

Bradford emailed an apology to Bowers March 12 and wrote, "I sincerely apologize for my social media comment it lacked professionalism, and I will take more caution in my social media communication in the future. It is my goal to maintain a professional working relationship with all of our families. Please accept my sincere apology."

Bowers said she wants a public apology from the district, and she wants the district to more fully comply with her Freedom of Information request about these events.

If Bowers is not satisfied with the ruling of today's Level 2 grievance hearing, she can file a Level 3 grievance with the board of trustees.

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