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Teacher gets suspension

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- A teacher who was arrested for shoplifting at the Albany Mall's Dillard's department store was given a five-day suspension without pay at the start of the school year by Dougherty County School System Superintendent Joshua Murfree.

Felicia Ngozi Ezeamii, a 14-year district employee, was arrested and charged after a mall loss-prevention officer witnessed her concealing two shirts and a skirt in her purse on June 6, Albany Police Department spokeswoman Phyllis Banks said previously.

Ezeamii's arraignment is set for 10:30 a.m. Oct. 1 in Room 300 of Dougherty County State Court.

Through an Open Records request, The Herald obtained an Aug. 2 letter that was hand-delivered to Ezeamii from her supervisor. In the letter, Albany Early College Principal Barbara Harvey advised Murfree of the shoplifting incident and Ezeamii's "failure to notify in a timely manner."

The failure goes against the school board's Policy GBD Selection of Personnel and Board Policy GAK(1)-R(1) in which employees must notify a superior within 72 hours of their arrest.

Ezeamii, 43, waived her right to a personnel hearing during a July 29 meeting with Murfree, South Georgia Regional Achievement Center Principal John I. Davis and Human Resources Director Tracy S. Williams.

"The challenge before us is to continue to move forward and be forward thinkers as we improve our surroundings," Murfree wrote to Ezeamii. "I challenge you to make a difference and be the difference that challenges the situation. I trust that there will be no further problems of this kind in the future."

In the short time in which he's overseen Ezeamii, Davis said he's been impressed with her teaching abilities. However, Davis noted that he was provided no information about Ezeamii prior to her arriving at the system's alternative school.

"I received her the beginning of the second week of school," he said. "I do an evaluation every week of teachers, and to this point she has proven to be a quality teacher. She teaches math and social studies in the PALS program (where we) receive seventh-graders that are supposed to be in the ninth grade, and it's a fast-track program. In one year, we advance them to the ninth grade."

Davis said Ezeamii is one of four teachers in the PALS (Partners in Alternative Learning for Students) program. Teachers have 18 students apiece, he said.

Ezeamii could have been fired for her shoplifting arrest based on her violation of the "immorality" part of the state's Elementary & Secondary Education policy 20-2-940: procedure for termination or suspension. Dougherty County Board of Education Chairman David Maschke said he believed Ezeamii should have been fired as a result of her arrest.

"I can only speak for myself as an individual board member on this case," he said. "When the case and facts were first presented to me, I refused to sign the suspension papers because I thought the teacher should be fired. Instead, the teacher was suspended for five days without pay and transferred to another school after her school principal (Harvey) wanted her removed for being a poor role model. When the case was explained to the board, the majority were satisfied with the suspension and transfer."

Dougherty County Board of Education members James Bush and Anita Williams-Brown each told The Herald that they didn't have a comment on the situation. Board members Emily Jean McAfee, Milton "June Bug" Griffin, Velvet Riggins and Michael Windom couldn't be reached for comment. Murfree and DCSS Public Information Director R.D. Harter also declined to comment on the issue.

Ezeamii earned a national certificate in education from Anambra State College of Education in Awka, Nigeria, in 1989, according to information in her personnel file, which was obtained by The Herald in the Open Records request. She then was a bachelor's of education "candidate" at the University of Benin in Nigeria in 1993. She earned a bachelor's in language arts from Albany State University in 2002 and a master's in education from ASU in 2006.

She was a substitute teacher for the Dougherty County School System from 1996 to 2002 and was hired as a paraprofessional in 2003. Over the years, she has taught at Morningside Elementary, Monroe High, International Studies Charter Elementary and Radium Springs Middle before teaching at Albany Early College.

Ezeamii was charged with simple battery (domestic violence), in July 8, 1999. According to the police report, she "did intentionally make physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature with the person of Hyacinth Ezeamii, her husband. To wit: Ms. Ezeamii tore Mr. Ezeamii's shirt and tank top down the front, in the middle. ... Warrant is based on officer observation."

She pleaded "no contest" in the case on Sept. 10, 1999. On April 10, 2000, she "successfully completed pre-trial diversion" for a cost of $129.

On Oct. 4, 2001, Ezeamii was charged with battery (domestic violence) and two counts of cruelty to children. According to a police report, she scratched her husband on the face causing a "substantial bruise." She also tore off her husband's shirt and underwear, the report added. The incident was witnessed by her two oldest children, Ike and Nkem, ages 6 and 5. The next day, she was ordered by Judge Denise Marshall to stay away from her husband. In March 2002, Chief Assistant District Attorney for State Court Dick Hand dropped the charges against Ezeamii citing "insufficient evidence."

The couple, which had four children together, filed for divorce in 2001 and it was granted in December 2003.

Herald government reporter J.D. Sumner contributed to this story.