Praying teacher granted release from FCHS contract

Published 6:34 pm Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Franklin County teacher known for holding daily classroomprayer has quit her job, fearful of reprisals from the district ifshe continued her religious rite.

Franklin County High School math teacher Alice Hawley, 55, wasreleased from her contract by her request last week after appearingbefore the school board to offer her resignation, just two daysbefore teachers were to return for the start of the 2010-11 schoolyear. Hawley said she quit her job to preempt her possible firingfor insubordination for continuing to pray with her students at thestart of class each day, even after being asked to stop and almostbeing terminated for the same acts three months ago.

“I wasn’t going to quit praying as long as the students wantedit,” she said. “Why get fired and then not be able to be hiredbecause you were fired for insubordination? That would have went onmy record.”

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Franklin County School District Superintendent Dr. Grady Flemingdid not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.

Hawley’s job with the district was lost and then found during a24-hour period in May when Fleming issued her a letter ofnon-renewal for the same reasons that prompted her to walk awaylast week. The non-renewal letter stated Hawley was being let gofor “continued and regular leading of your students in prayerduring class” and “insubordination by failure to stop having classprayer after being told to stop.”

The non-renewal letter was withdrawn and Hawley was back on thepayroll the next morning, however, after it was discovered therewas no evidence she had been asked to stop holding prayer andtherefore could not be guilty of insubordination.

Hawley said she heard from friends the needed proof would begathered as soon as school started this year.

“(Fleming) was planning on getting the documentation he did nothave in May so he could legally have proof to fire me forinsubordination,” she alleged. “I didn’t want to put my studentsthrough that. They’d think I was going to be their teacher, andthey’d walk in one day and tell me I’m through.”

According to minutes of the Aug. 3 board meeting, the board hadadjourned without acting on Hawley’s request until she insisted herresignation be accepted. The board reconvened and voted to let hergo.

Franklin County School Board member Tyler Scott said hesupported Hawley’s pursuit of her convictions, but doubted shewould have been fired for praying in the classroom.

“After signing a contract, it would have taken an act ofCongress,” he said. “I’ve read about people who’ve had sex withstudents and couldn’t get fired immediately.”

Scott alluded to division in the ranks, saying the board wasopposed to Fleming’s issuance of a non-renewal notice to Hawley inMay.

“I firmly believe had he continued with his desire to non-renewher, the board would have overturned his decision,” he said. “Heand I have developed diverging opinions on how to handlethings.”

As far as classroom prayer, Scott said the board would ensureall laws are followed, but added he would rather “err on the sideof prayer.”

“My opinion is we need more God, more prayer in school, notless. I know that’s not politically correct and in some instancenot legal, but I saw the effect (Hawley) has had on kids,” he said.”You’ve got children who are able to make Proficient and Advancedin algebra. Whatever she was doing was working.”

But the school board has not had the chance to get directlyinvolved with Hawley before it accepted her resignation last week,said board member Bill Scott. He said Hawley’s repeated troubleswith prayer in the classroom have been handled by Fleming and neverbrought to the board as an issue for discussion.

“As far as the board, we thought she was good to go to teach,”he said. “She’s a great teacher. Her grades prove that.”

Bill Scott pointed out Hawley’s insistence on being releasedfrom her contract left the board with no choice but to grant herwish.

“She advised that regardless of the board’s decision, whether wereleased her from her contract or not, she was not going to returnto teach,” he said. “We mentioned to her we might need to take thisunder advisement, maybe sit down and talk to her. It was herdecision.”