COVINGTON, Ga. — A teacher’s online commentary and a live broadcast on her personal Facebook page that contained crude and sexually oriented language combined to convince county school officials to fire her this week.
However, Jammie Phillips said she believed her termination was done because she was so outspoken on the issue of teacher safety concerns about in-person learning in the midst of a pandemic.
Comments written under an alias on her personal social media using her own equipment at her home also should not have been allowed, she said.
The Newton County School Board on Tuesday, Sept. 29, voted to terminate the teaching contract of Phillips after a six-hour hearing and Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey’s recommendation that board members take the action.
It was the first personnel hearing the board had conducted in nine years, said school system spokeswoman Sherri Davis.
Davis said there was “substantial evidence” presented at the hearing that prompted Fuhrey’s recommendation that Phillips be fired from the job she held for about three months as Clements Middle School band director.
“A number of witnesses, including the leadership team from the school and the superintendent, testified about their knowledge of the incidents and why Ms. Phillips could no longer be effective as a teacher in Newton County,” Davis said.
During the Sept. 29 hearing, Phillips said a board attorney charged that she had been insubordinate when she refused to turn in a building entry card after she declined administrators’ requests to resign in August.
She said she did not believe she needed to surrender the entry key because she was still employed at the school and was owed a due process hearing on the charges.
The board’s attorney also asked if she was actively seeking publicity by appearing in TV news segments about her case, Phillips said.
“They painted me as doing it all for publicity,” she said.
Phillips said she also was asked if the word “dope” appearing on jewelry she wore on one TV news segment meant she supported illegal drug use — which she denied and noted the word also is a popular term of approval.
She said the hearing left her with a feeling of “(as) if I had killed somebody.”
Phillips initially charged in August that her outspokenness about publicly opposing a plan for in-person learning because of COVID-19 safety issues led to adminstrators looking into her personal social media.
She also said she believed it to be a political move to appease parents opposed to the board opening the school year with all-virtual teaching.
Phillips’ personal Facebook page never identified her job or place of employment and the language she used on it should not have been used in reviewing her job performance, she said.
However, Fuhrey said in a Sept. 3 letter that she was recommending Phillips be fired because of “insubordination, immorality and other good and sufficient cause as set forth” in state law.
Fuhrey said in her Sept. 3 letter that Phillips “repeatedly conducted yourself in an unprofessional manner in the public setting of the internet.”
“On several occasions you have used social media to pick a fight with other educators and in the course of your exchange you would defame them and use crude and profane language toward and about them,” Fuhrey said.
She wrote that in “other posts” Phillips expressed “disdainful and insubordinate views” of administrators and called them incompetent.
“In the same post you used racist comments, profanity and compared school leaders to slave masters or ‘massas,’” Fuhrey wrote. “In fact these references occur regularly in your social media posts in reference to school system administrators and boards.”
The school system hired Phillips in June to lead the band at Clements after 13 years as a music specialist in the Clayton County School System.
However, after she was hired she was outspoken in her opposition to the Newton County School System’s evolving plan to begin the academic year with a mix of virtual and classroom instruction because of the potential for teachers — including herself — contracting COVID-19.
She helped lead a protest outside the school system’s Covington headquarters in July and verbally sparred with supporters of in-person learning in the comments section of the school district’s official Facebook page Aug. 7.
However, she said she never identified herself as a teacher and was posting comments under an alias.
Officials with her school and the district the following week asked her to resign because of a recording of a livestreaming event they said they found on her personal Facebook page in which she admits using vulgar language and crude sexual references.
Phillips contends she did the broadcast as a private individual intentionally out of view of her employer and the public; and produced it at her home on her personal equipment.
She said she did not identify herself as a teacher and her Facebook page does not include her legal name.
The district subsequently placed her on administrative leave and locked her out of the school building but kept her on the payroll, she said.
Fuhrey said in the Sept. 3 letter Phillips then continued to go on social media “in a very public way indicating that you had no wish to continue to work for the school district and proving it by the disdainful attitude you express toward the district and its leadership.”
The superintendent said such comments ended any confidence the system had that Phillips could act professionally in a classroom.
She also said previous supervisors had warned Phillips not to use profanity “and other inappropriate language” in the classroom.
Her comments also violated the school district’s directives about teacher’s use of social media, the Professional Standards Commission’s professional conduct standard “and, frankly, any standards of the education profession.”
Phillips said she plans to use the record of the hearing to take legal action against the district because of issues related to its alleged breach of her employment contract, as well as racial discrimination and violation of her First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
She said she has filed a complaint alleging job discrimination with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Phillips also said she is now seeking a teaching job in another county.