Vanessa Washington addresses the Lee County School Board at its meeting Monday night.
LEESBURG, Ga. — Although only one of them spoke to the Lee County School Board Monday evening, two mothers gave conflicting reports of what one called sexually harassing text messages sent to her son that prompted her to eventually remove him from Lee County Middle School.
Vanessa Washington asked to address the board after her son, Traedjon Washington, and one of his classmates were originally sentenced to three days of In-School Suspension (ISS) for an incident in which Traedjon was accused of showing classmates graphic text messages that he said were from another Lee Middle student.
That student, whose mother said after the meeting she had documentation showing he had not sent the messages, which were of a homosexual nature, said Traedjon had had two other students beat him up. The charges against both originally led to what Vanessa Washington said were three days in ISS, but she said when she requested a meeting with Superintendent Larry Walters, her son's punishment was changed to five days and eventually to "10 to 13 days."
The Washingtons decided to remove Traedjon from Lee Middle and enrolled him in Byne Christian School.
"I came here tonight to let this board know what's going on in their school," Vanessa Washington said after the board meeting. "My husband and I did not like the way this situation was handled; in fact, we were shocked that we were lied to by school officials."
Washington played a voice message from LMS assistant principal Kim Robinson in which Robinson informed Traedjon's parents that he had had his cellphone taken away for violating school usage policy, including showing the text messages to classmates. Washington said Traedjon could not have been using the phone during school hours because she'd had service blocked from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"Some of the text messages (from the other student) said he was gay and that he was going to kill himself," Washington said. "Traedjon was told if someone threatened to kill himself and he didn't tell, he could be liable. He's been confused by this, and we've taken him to see a counselor.
"I'm not complaining because I have anything against gays, I'm complaining about the way my son was harassed and disrespected by the administration at the middle school, especially by Assistant Principal Robinson."
School Board Chairwoman Sylvia Vann said after the meeting she hopes the matter has been settled to everyone's satisfaction.
"I think Mrs. Washington wanted to present her position to the board tonight," Vann said. "I feel certain she understood we would listen to her but would not take any action at this time.
"Mrs. Washington went through the chain of command: from the teachers involved to the principal to the superintendent to this board. Due process has been followed, and I hope this issue is now settled."
Michele Moulton, who said her son had been accused of sending the graphic texts to Traedjon, told reporters after the meeting he had not and that she had proof. She also offered a warning to the Washingtons.
"I have documentation that proves my son did not send those text messages to (Traedjon)," Moulton said. "Those texts did not come from his phone, and if (Washington) continues to accuse my son in public, I plan to seek legal action."
Washington, meanwhile, said school officials need to take a look at their system of punishment.
"They've got kids afraid to speak out," she said. "It would make sense in a situation like this to talk with the kids involved, but they just gave both kids the same punishment and left it at that without looking into what really happened. What they don't seem to realize is that problems like this are not going to just go away.
"As parents and Christians, we tried to reach out to the other parents involved, but they told us not to call them again. I guess they're in denial."
Also at the meeting, Walters told the board special-purpose local-option sales tax revenues had dipped dramatically in February, despite state trends showing revenue increases.
"We were looking to come in around $300,000, but our total was $285,122," he said. "Hopefully this is just a little blip and things will get back on track."
Walters also sought, and received, permission to proceed with requests for proposals for a telephone system upgrade.
"I figure the new contract's going to be in the neighborhood of $150,000," he said. "The vendor that has been providing our phone service no longer offers that service, but we've known this time was coming for a year. Now the time is here.
"We're hoping that having a number of vendors, including some local businesses, bid on the contract will keep the costs lower than if we were using one of the larger phone providers."