School tribunal recommends teacher suspension

Monroe High School band teacher and Morningside Elementary School music teacher Jamar Raymond Smith testifies in front of a Dougherty County school system disciplinary tribunal Monday. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

Monroe High School band teacher and Morningside Elementary School music teacher Jamar Raymond Smith testifies in front of a Dougherty County school system disciplinary tribunal Monday. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

ALBANY — A Dougherty County teacher accused of pushing one student and slapping another last month, has received a recommendation for a 20-day suspension without pay, rather than lose his job.

Monroe High School band director and Morningside Elementary music teacher Jamar Raymond Smith stood before a Dougherty County school system disciplinary tribunal Monday morning to face accusations that he pushed a 13-year-old female student into a wall and repeatedly slapped a 10-year-old male student during class on September 20.

Smith was suspended without pay and subsequently charged with simple battery, pending the hearing. After learning of the incident, the initial recommendation from school superintendent Dr. David Mosely was to terminate Smith’s employment.

The three-person tribunal, consisting of former educators in Southwest Georgia, were presented evidence and listened to direct testimony from both students, Smith and other witnesses.

They were then given the options of either upholding the decision to terminate Smith, fully exonerating him or recommending an alternative punishment.

The majority of the testimony centered on how Smith handled a disruptive class and whether his method of discipline amounted to the use of corporal punishment.

Although the school system’s handbook prohibits the use of corporal punishment, it does not state what actions fall under that description.

During his testimony, Smith, who normally teaches kindergarten through second grade classes but was filling in for another teacher that day, contended that his actions were were simply a way to maintain discipline in the classroom.

According to Smith, he introduced himself to the class and told them that he expected proper behavior. He testified that since he did not have any past lesson plans showing what the students were working on, he would allow them to “talk quietly among themselves,” provided they were not disruptive.

After warning the students about their noise level three times, they were instructed to remain silent until the end of class. It was at that point, Smith said, that a couple of students continued to get out of hand and act “in a disrespectful manner.”

“The students started to make noises, started to laugh,” Smith said. “[the female student] continued to act in a defiant manner.”

Smith said he asked the student to go stand against the wall and when she failed to move he placed one hand on her shoulder and his other hand on her back and guided her to the spot.

“It was not a shove,” said Smith. “It was more similar to pushing a grocery cart. I did not violently push her.”

As for the male student, Smith testified that he addressed the student in the hallway after another teacher told him the student was being disrespectful toward her.

Smith told the tribunal that he approached the male student to speak with him about why he was misbehaving. He stated that while talking to him the student was moving side to side and not paying him any attention. Smith then took him out of the line and tried to talk to him again.

“I just wanted to talk with him some more,” Smith said. “I wanted to let the young man know his behavior was unacceptable.”

Smith then testified that he placed his hand on the student’s chin and turned his face toward him to look him in the eye. Smith said he did not “slap” or hit the student.

“I took his chin and positioned his face to me to get his attention,” Smith said.

Smith’s attorney, Chris West of Moultrie, said his client was a good teacher trying his best to do his job.

“Mr. Smith is a hardworking educator, passionate about his job,” said West. “These teachers have a heck of a lot of responsibility. We leave it to these teachers to take on a classroom of 30 or more students. It’s a difficult job.”

While Smith was once disciplined five years ago for admittedly swearing in front of students, both students involved in Monday’s hearing have past records of being disruptive, with the female student having received numerous days of detention and also being suspended from school.

The school system’s attorney, Flynn Coleman, said that at least four types of punishment Smith meted out should be considered corporal punishment.

Along with allegedly pushing the one student and slapping the other, Smith also had another student do push ups and the entire class hold books above their heads for upward of five minutes.

“There’s not a rule that says you can’t have kids hold books above their heads,” Coleman said during his closing remarks. “It should be understood. You’re not supposed to touch those kids out of anger.”

After hearing accounts of the incident, the tribunal voted unanimously to recommend Smith receive a 20-day suspension without pay and not to terminate Smith’s contract; a decision ultimately supported by Mosely.

“When first hearing a story that a teacher hit a student, the decision had to be to terminate,” said Mosely. “After hearing what I heard today, I’m perfectly okay with the punishment. I support the decision.”

During his testimony Smith admitted he might have gone too far and wished he had acted differently.

“I have a high standard of professionalism,” Smith said. “I could’ve handled the situation a whole lot differently. I’m human just like anyone else. We’re all going to make mistakes. I take responsibility.”

Mosely said if the school board approves the recommendation, they would likely make Smith’s 20-day suspension retroactive to the date of he was initially suspended, meaning Smith should be able to resume his teaching duties immediately.