The Watson Chapel School Board on Monday approved the expulsion of six female students who were involved in a fight at Watson Chapel High School on April 17.
The expulsions were recommended by Superintendent Danny Hazelwood.
The expelled students are Briuna Penn, 18; Biunca Penn, 18; Lachell Semons, 19; Justize Gatewood, 18; and two juveniles. All six students were arrested after the incident, according to reports from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
Before the expulsions were approved, each student was given the option of having an open or closed hearing before the school board. Briuna and Biunca Penn asked for a closed hearing, while the other students opted to have their hearings held in public.
Watson Chapel High School Assistant Principal John Hayden told the board that the six girls were involved in a fight in the hallway and that school officials were able to view footage of most of the fight from a school security camera.
The grandfather of one of the students involved said he asked to see the video and his request was denied, although he said a cell-phone video of the incident was displayed on an overhead projector in a classroom. Parents and some of the students involved said there had been a pattern of bullying at the school, and Hayden said there had been several suspensions and other actions taken as school officials attempted to remedy the problem.
Some of the parents and students involved said the students were defending themselves during the fight — statements that drew a rebuke from board member Robin Barker.
“We have to look at this from a different perspective,” Barker said. “You can’t defend yourself … if you do, you have to pay the consequences for that. … The main thing is, I do not want negative coming from this as far as officials not doing what they are supposed to do.”
Barker said that if a student is physically attacked, she should walk away from the situation and notify a school official immediately.
“That’s easier said than done,” replied board member Ronnie Reynolds.
Reynolds cast the only dissenting votes on two of the suspensions. The remainder were approved by voice vote with no opposition. Board member Shade Culcalger Jr. recused himself from one vote because he is related to the student involved.
Later, the board unanimously approved a $1,000 bonus for all full-time employees. The bonus will be paid from reserve funds and distributed by June 13.
The board also approved a tuition agreement with Jenkins Memorial Center to service the district’s severely handicapped students, and also approved a proposed change in uniform shirt color for students at Watson Chapel Junior High School. The new policy calls for light blue shirts for seventh-grade students, burgundy for eighth-graders and hunter green for ninth-graders. Currently, seventh-graders wear burgundy shirts while eighth- and ninth-graders wear hunter green.
Hazelwood informed the board that he has received retirement notices from three employees and letters of resignation from several others.
Later the board went into executive session to consider Hazelwood’s recommendations for the renewal of several employment contracts as well as hiring several other employees including a head football coach.
Contacted by phone after the meeting, Hazelwood said that not all of his recommendations were approved by the board but that he couldn’t provide further details Monday night.
Asked specifically about the football coach — Hazelwood recommended the hiring of Des Arc coach Dustin Prescott — he replied: “I can’t tell you about that right now.”
Hayden, who serves as the school district’s athletic director, said later that the board had rejected Hazelwood’s recommendation to hire Prescott.