After having observed the workings of the Griffin-Spalding County School System for a long time, from the outside and now from the inside, I have come to the painful conclusion that many of the people in leadership are simply out of touch.
This latest episode, which I will refer to as the “Swimwear Affair,” has iced this cake over for me.
As your readers know, a teacher filed a complaint against our superintendent, Dr. Curtis Jones, because Dr. Jones made a comment suggesting that he would donate money to see female employees show up at school or to a school charity function dressed in swimwear. The teacher felt this comment was inappropriate, was offended by the comment and filed a complaint under the board’s policy prohibiting harassment. Dr. Jones admitted that he made the comment, that the comment was inappropriate, the he would have apologized to the teacher had he known she was offended, and wished that he could take the comment back.
The school board voted to dismiss the teacher’s complaint on the basis that the comment made by Dr. Jones did not rise to “sexual harassment” as defined by the United States Supreme Court. It is amazing to me that people are trying to convince me, the employees of the school system, and the citizens of this fair county, that the only conduct prohibited by this policy is “sexual harassment,” as defined by the United States Supreme Court.
The board, through its written policy, has defined “harassment.” Nowhere in the policy does it state that “harassment” is limited to sexual harassment, much less sexual harassment as defined by the United States Supreme Court under federal statutes. In fact, our policy specifically states that there are “varied forms” of prohibited harassment. Our definition of “harassment” is much broader than the Supreme Court’s definition of “sexual harassment” as defined under federal law. The board can prohibit, and punish, all kinds of behavior under this policy that may not rise to “sexual harassment” as defined by the Supreme Court.
Let’s suppose that on March 30, 2012, the date of the “Swimwear Affair,” one of the female employees at Kennedy Road Middle School had walked into the office while Dr Jones was present and overheard his offer. This female employee happened to have some swimwear in her car and being in need of $20 to buy some gas, went to her car, put on her swimwear and came back into the office seeking to be paid.
Dr. Jones, being stunned and amazed that his offer could have been taken up so rapidly, refused to pay, stating, “I was just joking, but to keep peace, I will give you $5.”
Unfortunately for the teacher and Dr. Jones, several male employees and male students were standing in the adjacent hallway and witnessed the “Swimwear Affair.” While enjoying the show, these male employees and students were very much offended by the conduct on the part of the teacher and the superintendent. They collectively filed a complaint against the teacher and Dr. Jones, stating that such conduct was offensive, inappropriate and amounted to harassment.
All those who feel that the board would be powerless, under the stated policy, to discipline the teacher and the superintendent in this case unless the board determined that the male employees and students could maintain a federal lawsuit proving sexual harassment as defined by the Supreme Court, please raise your hand.
For me, the manner in which the Griffin-Spalding County School System is being operated is like being in an alien environment. Somebody is out of touch and somebody’s intelligence is being severely questioned.
M. MICHAEL KENDALL
Griffin-Spalding County Board of Education
Editor’s note: The school system’s harassment policy is on pages 38-39 of the 2011-2012 Contractual Employee Handbook and pages 18-19 of the 2011 Classified Employee Handbook, both of which are available online in PDF format at www.spalding.k12.ga.us.