Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Late night verdict dismisses teacher from school system

By Dale James / Selma Times – Journal

The Dallas County School Board voted unanimously Monday to terminate the contract of Barbara J. Barge, the Southside High School teacher who has filed a $45 million lawsuit against officials in the school system.

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The board went into executive session at 10:34 p.m. after hearing four hours of testimony and returned at 10:55 p.m. Board member Ollis Grayson moved to accept Superintendent Wayne May’s recommendation to terminate Barge. Board member Mark Story seconded the motion and the board then voted to accept the recommendation on a voice vote.

George Jones III, an attorney for Barge, then requested a roll call vote, which was unanimous.

May had recommended Barge’s contract be terminated on charges of immorality.

As evidence, attorneys for the school board introduced a tape recording made by a student at Southside without Barge’s knowledge. The tape purports to show Barge using graphic sexual language with the student and making derogatory comments about current and former school employees.

School board attorney John Pilcher termed the language on the tape &uot;crude, obscene and unprofessional.&uot;

Jones and J.L. Chestnut Jr., attorneys for Barge, argued that she was trying to determine whether the boy had been molested by Southside Vice Principal John Harris.

In the lawsuit filed Dec. 3, Barge and fellow Southside employees Kathryn M. Crosby and Henrietta Jones, and an unnamed student at Southside, allege that Harris homosexually assaulted a student.

Jones and Chestnut also argued that the secret taping violates Alabama and federal law and that the language on the tape is constitutionally protected speech.

They also objected to use of the tape on a number of other grounds, including discrepancies between the tape and the transcript provided to them by the school board attorneys, a two-minute gap in the tape, and unexplained voices that can be heard in the background.

Chestnut argued that the language on the tape did not meet the legal requirements for obscenity because there was no intent on Barge’s part to arouse sexual desire in the student.

Pilcher accused Barge of engaging in &uot;character assassination, heresay and unsubstantiated allegations&uot; during her defense. Barge had requested an open hearing, as was her legal right.

Pilcher also said Barge had failed to officially report any allegations of sexual misconduct she was aware of, as required by school board policy and Alabama law.

Jones argued that Barge did not follow board policy in reporting the alleged misconduct &uot;because testimony has shown it would be futile for her to do so.&uot; He said that Harris and Southside Principal Gary Crum had created a hostile work environment in which Barge and the other plaintiffs in the Dec. 3 lawsuit were subjected to intense harassment.

The suit names Harris; May; Crum; Dallas County assistant superintendents Don Willingham and Freeman Waller; and Ollis Grayson, a member of the Dallas County Board of Education, as defendants.

Barge said she plans to appeal the decision of the school board to the state tenure commission. Jones said that they are also considering a separate civil action in federal court for willful violation of civil rights.