November 16, 2016 10:45:54 AM
After discussing a personnel matter behind closed doors for almost an hour Tuesday, Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District officials declined to comment about the employment status of an elementary art teacher or any possible disciplinary action taken against her after she posted a questionable Facebook message last week during school hours.
The post was in regards to the general election and drew sharp criticism on social media.
On Monday, SOCSD Public Information Officer Nicole Thomas said Superintendent Lewis Holloway and the school board were aware of a recent post made by elementary art teacher Connie Barber at 2:40 p.m. on Nov. 9.
Barber, who was sharing a Fox News story about celebrities previously saying they would leave the country if Donald Trump was elected president, wrote "So GO! Now you know how we felt 8 years ago. The White House needs a good Clorox scrubbing!"
The post was shared with news outlets, including The Dispatch, and reposted numerous times by people alluding to racial undertones in her message. Some called for her outright termination from the school district.
The school board previously scheduled its Tuesday meeting to pick a firm to handle its upcoming superintendent search, but trustees amended the agenda earlier in the day to include a personnel matter. Trustees and district officials declined to comment on whether the personnel matter involved Barber.
District officials also declined to comment if Barber is still employed with SOCSD or if any disciplinary action was handed down by Holloway. The school board itself does not directly discipline employees and could possibly hear an appeal if one is made.
"We cannot legally discuss any personnel action," said SOCSD Board of Trustees President Jenny Turner. "The Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District is a welcoming, safe and supportive school system for all of our students. We seek to provide a school environment that values diversity. Our district policies are firmly against harassment, bullying and discrimination of any kind. Any student or employee experiencing them for any reason should let a teacher, principal or supervisor know immediately."
SOCSD's personal social networking policy, which was adopted in March, states all employees using online forms of communication "shall not post any data, documents, photos or inappropriate information on any website or application that might result in a disruption of classroom activity."
Employees may use educational websites or social media applications for educational purposes as long as they follow the district's TAP Test, which states communication must be transparent, accessible and professional.
The policy does not outline the ramifications or specific punishments for violating those rules.
In other business, trustees picked the Nebraska-based firm McPherson & Jacobson to handle its upcoming superintendent search.
The school board will pay the firm at least $11,500 for its services -- other out-of-pocket expenses are expected -- and, in turn, McPherson & Jacobson will help trustees develop a criteria for the new hire, handle advertising and screening processes and deliver final candidates for interviews.
The deal includes a promise for a new search without baseline fees if the process fails to yield a suitable candidate or if the new hire leaves within two years of assuming the position.
A new school superintendent could be hired by the spring.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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