Lawrence school board member says public’s concerns are racist

Published 1:00 pm Thursday, April 14, 2022

A Lawrence County school board member said concerns over a superintendent candidate come from racist attitudes.

The comments from District 2 board member Curtis Alexander came during the board’s public meeting this week in response to concerns expressed by a substitute teacher and a veteran teacher of the district.

Homemaker, parent and substitute teacher Karen Slater was the first to address the board. Slater said she was “concerned with out applicant for superintendent choice Dr. Chavis Bradford,” because he would be coming from a district that has had an F rating for several years, and that she has seen no record of success as an administrator.

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“How can parents, faculty, staff and students be assured Lawrence County will not have the same fate?” Slater asked.

The second person to address the board was New Hebron Attendance Center teacher Cassie Pittman — a 19-year veteran educator in the district. Pittman briefly expressed concerns that Bradford did not possess a great reputation as a positive leader.
“We do not want someone who comes with a bad reputation (and) from a level F school,” she said.

“Let me say this to you and teachers,” board member Alexander said. “The superintendent does not run your classroom … If you do your job, the students are going to perform, regardless.”

It’s not about who is in charge of the district, he said, but about understanding what needs to be done is not being done. Alexander said the same leadership has been in charge of the district for years and “everything going downhill … and all of a sudden now you’re concerned.”

The previous candidate was “too intelligent for us,” Alexander said, so he did not believe the complaint was related to qualifications of candidates.

“So the whole point is this here — it’s not about this man’s qualifications, what he’s able to do,” Alexander said. “What it’s about is you’ve got people with attitudes who happen to be racist, who happen to have the idea that they’re supposed to be in charge.”

Both Pittman and Slater responded they were not racists, to which Alexander replied, “I’m not saying you are.”

“But that’s what you intended when you said what you just said. That’s the way I took it,” Pittman said.

“Well, that’s fine. And the way I took it is like this here, you come here and defame the person based upon what you say happened,” the board member said. “If you’re so concerned … it should have happened before now.”

“Well, teachers, we’re not asked to give any comments on superintendents … we’re not asked to come in here and speak,” Pittman said.

“So we asked you to come here tonight?” asked Alexander.

Pittman responded that the meeting was open for people to get on the agenda to speak regarding the superintendent, but Alexander said that option should not have been presented. The time for comments from the public was past, he said.

“No, this should have never happened. It should not be happening. But at the same time, if that’s what you want to happen … it’s wrong. You try to make it out like you’re concerned about these kids. If you were concerned about these kids, then you’d be concerned about getting somebody in who’s intelligent enough to tell you when you’re doing the wrong thing,” Alexander said. “That’s the problem. Most of us here want to continue to do the same old thing over and over again. We don’t care nothing about being right.”

Alexander clarified that he was not speaking about Pittman, personally, but the pubic in general. He defended his position by saying no one had left or encouraged the county to raise taxes to pay for better schools when Lawrence County had an F-rated school.

“You’re not concerned about these kids. You’re concerned about yourself,” he said, gesturing toward the people in attendance. “I’m talking about you as the public.”

The New Hebron educator said she was offended by that comment.

“I’ve been teaching for Lawrence County for 19 years, yes, sir, and I love my children, my students, they’re my children, and yes, I care for them so it offends me when you tell me I don’t care about them,” Pittman said. “It hurts my heart because this is my life, and that’s why I’m here because I’m defending my school and my students.”

Board member Wesley Bridges said he had made a motion early in the search process to allow input from principals and teachers on candidates, but the idea “was denied” by the other members of the board.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Bridges said. “Your input is important (and) I appreciate it.”

Video of the public meeting can be seen on YouTube.