Barge appeals firing in court

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Former Southside High School teacher Barbara J. Barge continued efforts to regain her position by appealing her firing in Dallas County Circuit Court Tuesday.

The Dallas County School Board terminated Barge’s contract earlier this year on grounds of immorality. Her dismissal was upheld by the Alabama State Tenure Commission.

It is the tenure commission’s ruling that Barge is appealing in circuit court.

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The charge of immorality stems from a conversation that took place between Barge and a student at Southside. The recording was secretly taped by the student and presented as evidence at her termination hearing.

The tape purports to show Barge using obscene language with the student. Barge maintains that she was trying to determine whether the student had been sexually molested by Southside Vice Principal John Harris.

One week before Dallas County Schools Superintendent Wayne May requested the board terminate her contract, Barge and two other Southside employees filed a $45 million lawsuit alleging that Harris touched a student at the school in a sexual manner. The suit also alleges that May and the school board failed to investigate similar allegations involving Harris.

Barge’s attorney, J.L. Chestnut Jr., argued that the conversation on the tape represents constitutionally protected speech and could not be used against her.

Southside Principal Gary Crum, who is also named in the $45 million suit, testified at Barge’s termination hearing that he personally provided the tape recorder to the student.

Chestnut said that the Dallas County School Board hired Harris even though he had been allowed to resign from an earlier position with the Selma City Schools system for allegedly writing an &uot;inappropriate&uot; note to a male student.

Barker said the transcript of the tape recording shows that Barge used her position as a teacher &uot;to manipulate and badger this student into saying things he doesn’t want to say&uot; and that she held &uot;a personal vendetta&uot; against Harris.

In his rebuttal remarks Chestnut called Barker’s argument ironic, saying that the school board had fired Barge for &uot;terrorizing&uot; the student with her words while failing to make any effort to determine whether he had been abused by Harris.

Barge testified at her termination hearing that she wrote an anonymous letter detailing her allegations against Harris to the Dallas County Department of Human Resources.

Barker said Barge violated school board policy by failing to report any suspicion of abuse to school officials. &uot;(Chestnut) wants to excuse that on the basis of why should she have to tell them something they already knew,&uot; Barker said.

Chestnut also argued that Barge should be reinstated because school board member Ollis Grayson refused to recuse himself from her termination hearing. Grayson is named in the $45 million suit.

Barker countered that there was no need for Grayson to recuse himself because there was no evidence of any prior statement of bias or prejudice on his part.

Chestnut pointed out that it was Grayson who made the motion to deny Barge’s request for a continuance and Grayson who made the motion in executive session that the board terminate her contract.

Circuit Court Judge Marvin Wiggins took the arguments under advisement and will issue a ruling later.