Librarian Cited for Insubordination for Failure to Provide Scissors
to Misbehaving Students! 
MACE Counsel Ramay in disbelief that Hancock County Principal would violate State law because of librarian's inability to give students scissors she did not have to give!  (Some names have been changed!)



December 22, 2006




Dr. Awanna Leslie, Superintendent

Hancock County School District

POB 488

Sparta, GA  31087



Dear Superintendent Leslie:


     I understand that, during the preceding school year, you received correspondence from MACE through MACE’s previous attorney, William L. Woods.  Sadly, Attorney Woods passed away of a heart attack during the summer, and I have taken his place as the General Counsel for MACE.  In that guise, I write you today in outrage over a letter dated December 6, 2006, that Principal Davis Fender of Russell Middle School presented to Rita Hearns of the Media Center.  In his letter, Principal Fender writes:  “In response to your letter dated November 28, 2006, I am hereby charging you with direct insubordination.”  That is the extent of his “response” to Ms. Hearns’ letter, which I have also read and find to be quite professional and polite.  I find Principal Fender’s response, however, to be far from professional and hardly polite.  It clearly displays animus toward Ms. Hearns in that insubordination is listed in O.C.G.A. 20-2-040(a) as the first of eight “grounds for termination or suspension” of a school’s certificated staff member; therefore, Principal Fender’s letter exists as a threat to Ms. Hearns.  Further, this threat unfairly and illegally diminishes Ms. Hearns’ legal rights in that it has, as the Supreme Court has stated, “a chilling effect on the First Amendment.”  In her letter, Ms. Hearns innocently and honestly indicates her valid opinion about her treatment at Russell.  She writes:  “Often, I truly feel that I am being persecuted because I am trying to fulfill my duties, and it appears that my gender is a vital issue under the circumstances when I report student offences.”  Ms. Hearns, in quite a non-threatening manner, has indicated that she believes she is being discriminated against because she is female, and it is logical that she would copy a letter in which she indicates such discrimination up the chain of command.  As an analogy, would one actually expect the farmer to report the loss of his chickens to the fox only?       


     Perhaps Principal Fender took umbrage that Ms. Hearns copied her letter to you, thus possibly embarrassing him; however, Ms. Hearns has every right to copy you and did so without endeavoring to circumvent Principal Fender’s knowledge of what she had done.  She indicated it in the letter.  Principal Fender, however, has absolutely no legal authority to charge Ms. Hearns with “direct insubordination.”  In doing so, he has usurped your legal authority as provided in O.C.G.A. 20-2-940, 942, 944 and, in doing so, has directly committed an insubordinate act.  For this, it is incumbent on you as his direct supervisor, to reprimand him as well as to report his insubordination to the Professional Standards Commission.  Failure to do so would cause you to be complicit in his violation of law and would further impede Ms. Hearns’ legal right of access to the First Amendment.  Is it surprising, then, that Ms. Hearns writes the following in the letter that Principal Fender finds so bothersome:  “My family is requesting to be present at any future conferences, and my attorney is politely, genuinely, and respectfully offering his services at any future conferences to help clear up misconceptions and incongruencies.”  Ms. Hearns’ professionalism can be clearly discerned through this sentence and is underscored by the next one, in which she offers Principal Fender a face-saving way out:  “I do realize, Mr. Fender, that recently the truth has not always been available to you regarding the media center.”  In her letter, Ms. Hearns seeks resolution and goes out of her way to show that this resolution does not involve retribution against Principal Fender.  He apparently has the latter in mind.         


     In a response to Principal Fender, dated December 7, 2006, Ms. Hearns recounts what she believes to be the catalysis for the problem with Principal Fender.  She writes:  “This small group of abusive students have displayed unsatisfactory behavior:  loud, aggressive, intimidating, using profanity and skipping classes.”  These students, from the high school, included a female named Jonquil who, Ms. Hearns writes, “became irate the third time that I refused to issue her scissors.”  The scissors were not issued because, as Ms. Hearns writes, “I did not have any scissors, because the media center had not received any supplies to date.”  Apparently, the student continued to harass Ms. Hearns in an increasingly belligerent manner for scissors, running in and out of the library at will.  Ms. Hearns, after finally obtaining the student’s name, phoned the mother twice, first about the girl’s belligerence about the scissors and again after the girl surreptitiously entrapped Ms. Hearns into speaking to her with the mother listening in on a cell phone.  Ms. Hearns’ statement as to what Principal Fender apparently did next is quite telling:  “I was accosted by you and the assistant principal at my workstation in the media center.  You stated that I must assist all students, and you wanted an explanation as to why I did not give scissors to the students as they requested.  I informed you about the repeated misbehavior of a small group of students and how they have refused to obey the directions and instructions of media center staff.  I explained that I did not have scissors to give students because I have not had access to funds to purchase media center supplies.” 


     The interaction between Ms. Hearns and the students occurred on December 5, 2006, and the meeting among Principal Fender, Ms. Hearns, and an assistant principal occurred the next day as did Principal Fender’s creation of a letter where he completely disregards Ms. Hearns’ account:  “Several high school students complained about not being able to receive assistance from you while working on their projects.”  He continues:  “. . . it is expected that everyone will assist the boys and girls of Hancock County in their quest to become successful students and productive citizen [sic] within today’s society and that the librarians are expected to assist students regardless of grade level as long as they are there for valid reasons and with a pass.  Please adhere and make sure this directive is followed.”  What is there to misunderstand?  The students needed scissors, items Ms. Hearns did not have.  After having been told this once, why would a high school student need to be retold three or four times?  Why were high school students running in and out of the library looking for sharp, pointed metal objects in the first place?  Why was it out of place for Ms. Hearns to want the Media Center to be a quiet place for other students to work?  Why did the students searching for scissors fail to approach the art teacher for use of his/her supplies?  Is not the Media Center where a student goes to read a book or magazine or surf the Internet for info?  Why would a principal want a Media Center to fulfill the purpose of an art class?  It strikes me that Ms. Hearns did attempt to assist the students, but she was unable to meet their specific needs because, it would appear, Principal Fender had failed to enable his media specialists to procure needed supplies.  If he is so concerned about “the boys and girls of Hancock County in their quest to become successful students and productive citizen [sic] within today’s society,” then he would have ensured scissors were available for their use in the Media Center rather than admonishing Ms. Hearns for not helping them even though she could not, given the fact that she had no scissors.


     I cannot imagine the primary responsibility of a media specialist to be to provide students with scissors to complete “projects.”  It seems to me incumbent on the classroom teacher to make available to his/her students the materials necessary for completion of an assigned project.  In fact, Ms. Hearns rightfully questions student use of scissors, something that Principal Fender ignores:  “I do need to know your policy regarding issuing scissors to high school students, in order to adjust my responses to these student requests.”  How absurd that Ms. Hearns would ultimately be cited for “direct insubordination” over failure to provide scissors, which could in certain situations be construed as weapons, to rude, wanton high school students who do not seem able to understand the word “no.”  What would Principal Fender have written, much less done, had Ms. Hearns provided scissors to these free-wheeling students, and the scissors somehow became embedded in one of the student’s chests?  Would he have charged her with “direct insubordination” then for having placed a dangerous implement in the hands of a future “productive citizen”?  I think not.  Besides, just what does “direct insubordination” mean?  O.C.G.A. 20-2-940(a) has no reference to “direct insubordination,” but The American Heritage Dictionary defines "insubordination" as a “condition or practice of not obeying,” something I categorically assert that Ms. Hearns did not do because she did not have the means by which she could disobey.  She had no scissors to provide the students.


     In conclusion, I ask that you provide immediate relief for Ms. Hearns.  Please direct Principal Fender to rescind the letter in which he charges Ms. Hearns with “direct insubordination” and have him pen a statement in which he avows that Ms. Hearns is a teacher in good standing at Russell Middle.  Also, please direct Principal Fender to treat Ms. Hearns with professional respect so that she no longer feels that she works in an oppressive, hostile environment in which her gender is used against her when she seeks assistance for the disciplining of unruly students.  In addition to reporting Principal Fender to the Professional Standards Commission, I would strongly suggest that you place him on a Professional Development Plan in which he is mandated to review school law and to engage in training for human relations and interpersonal relationships.  I would assume that, since you have previously dealt with MACE through Attorney Woods, you realize that MACE will not allow one of its members to be mistreated in any form or fashion.  It is not the intent of MACE to cause problems for administrators; however, MACE will not shirk from its responsibility to its members.  I trust you will do the right thing and that I will not have to contact you again concerning this matter.






                                                                        J. Anderson Ramay, Jr., Esq.



Copy:  Rita Hearns, Teacher

          John R. A. Trotter, Ed.D.,J.D., Chairman, MACE

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