The Baldwin County Public School Board last week voted to terminate a Loxley Elementary School preschool teacher, who says she was accused of spanking students and believes the allegations against her may be racially charged.
Deborah Dixon, a teacher of 17 years, spoke before the school board prior to the vote and asked them to reconsider her termination, which she said stemmed from false accusations she implemented corporal punishment, or spanking, against students.
“The allegations of me spanking children goes against everything I believe in,” she said.
Dixon maintained that she was not even on the school’s campus when allegations were reported.
“It was a one-sided investigation,” she said. “I am an innocent person. I am a wife, I am a mother, I am a teacher. This is my calling.”
Four parents of Loxley Elementary School students also went before the board on Dixon’s behalf, praising her as a teacher and saying their children looked forward to coming to her class.
According to parent April Davenport, there have been more than 10 different new teachers at the elementary school since Oct. 17, constant changes that have caused a lot of confusion for the 4-year-old students.
“It’s caused a lot of drama and there’s no communication,” she said.
Davenport called Dixon’s dismissal “pure racism” and pleaded for the board to reinstate Dixon’s teaching duties at Loxley Elementary School. Dixon is black while students and teachers at Loxley Elementary are primarily white.
“No one cares what the parents have to say and what the children have to say,” she said.
Carla Hughin, a parent of two students at the school, told the board Dixon is an “outstanding teacher” and pointed out it may be another teacher who created the problems.
Furthermore, parents also told the board they felt their children should not have been interrogated during the investigation without consent.
“Their parents should have been notified,” Dixon told Lagniappe after the meeting. “Their parents should have been there or had knowledge of it, but they didn’t.”
The school board ultimately voted 6-1 on Dixon’s termination effective Jan. 16, with board member David Cox, who represents District 1, voting against the motion.
After the meeting, Baldwin County schools spokesman Terry Wilhite told Lagniappe he could not speak about the matter, saying it would be against policy to comment on personnel issues.
Dixon, who felt like she was being “racially profiled,” said there have been issues with the school’s new principal dating back to the beginning of the school year, when she first took on the role.
Noting several instances in which the principal seemed “inattentive” and “really not concerned,” about her classroom, Dixon said she has since shared her feelings with other black coworkers who have shared the same sentiments.
“I felt that she wasn’t interested in anything we had to say, and it was just that she catered to the whites more than she did the blacks,” she said.
Further, Dixon said tension really began to surface during late September and early October, when she took personal leave after two family members passed away.
“I don’t know what happened in that classroom from the time I left to the time I got back,” Dixon said. “The principal never came to me, she never told me that something had happened in my classroom. She never told me that any parents had complained.”
Further, Dixon said she did not return to work until Oct. 13 and had no knowledge of any issues that occurred while she was away, especially involving a child being spanked.
“For two days, my principal did not come to me,” she said. “She didn’t tell me about anything. She didn’t even welcome me back to school.”
It wasn’t until Oct. 17, when Dixon returned from an annual Pre-K workshop in Montgomery, that she received a phone call from a parent saying some things were going on in the classroom.
“I was dumbfounded,” she said. “I didn’t know what the parent was talking about.”
Dixon said she immediately called the principal, who directed her to contact the school system’s human resources department. According to Dixon, human resources then told her not to report to school Monday morning but instead report to the system’s central office in Loxley.
“From that morning, (they) told me I would be on administrative leave until they did an investigation,” Dixon said.
Further, Dixon maintains the investigation was one-sided, while several parents have also written statements to discredit the allegations, once again claiming Dixon was not even working that day and that it was another teacher who committed the alleged spanking.
“Nobody investigated my parents, nobody talked to my parents, nobody talked to any of the staff at the school and nobody talked to me as far as an investigation,” she said. “The investigation had taken place long before they talked to me.”
Dixon said she was told that in the investigation process, dirty clothes were found in her classroom in addition to dusty furniture and a “filthy” floor. Additionally, Dixon said the investigation revealed she had been putting children in time out, all of which she denies.
“My guidelines state that we don’t put children in timeout, and I said I do everything according to that,” she said.
Currently, the Alabama Department of Education does not have a policy in regards to corporal punishment, according to Erica Pippins, public information specialist.
“What (we) do require is for school systems to list in their student handbook each year whether or not they utilize corporal punishment, so that parents are aware,” she said.
Therefore, Pippins said the ALSDE does not get involved with corporal punishment cases and such matters are decided on by each individual school system.
“We do receive dates on the instances, but do not create reports at this time, as neither state law nor the U.S. Department of Education require it,” Pippins said.
According to Alabama Code Section 16-28A-1, “Teachers are hereby given the authority and responsibility to use appropriate means of discipline up to and including corporal punishment as may be prescribed by the local board of education.”
For Baldwin County public schools, corporal punishment is prohibited as stated in the board of education’s policy manual, which reads “Corporal punishment (spanking) shall not be administered by school personnel.”
According to Dixon, this is not the first discrimination case at Loxley Elementary School.
“They don’t want any blacks teaching there,” Dixon said. “They don’t want any blacks to get tenure there.”
Loxley Elementary School’s current principal could not comment on the matter, but Wilhite told Lagniappe Monday that “this is an active human resources matter, so as such, we’re limited in what we can say at this point.”