BRADENTON -- The case of a Manatee County teacher who said one of her students “may be the evolutionary link between orangutans and humans” in a Facebook exchange with seven other teachers will be sent to the state Department of Education for further review.
Schools Superintendent Tim McGonegal said he has decided to send the case to the department’s Professional Practices Commission, even though the teachers’ principal has already verbally disciplined them.
“We have administrators that make decisions every day, and we cannot go back and change the discipline,” he said. “[But] this is something the state should be looking at. When I see these words, I feel they are just terrible.”
The controversy began when Lauren Orban, a Rogers Garden Elementary School music teacher, wrote the comment on her Facebook page in mid-May.
Several other teachers jokingly joined the conversation. Second-grade teacher Emma Disley pressed Orban to share the student’s name, writing, “This made me laugh out loud. Haha.”
Laura Beth Cross, another second-grade teacher, wrote, “even though I can probably guess, please tell.”
When Orban revealed the student’s initials, Cross responded, “Yup! Just who I suspected!”
The conversation ended when school registrar Jauana Johnson wrote, “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
Johnson also informed Lisa Wade, the student’s parent, about the exchange.
Wade, who requested that her son’s name be withheld, said she pressed the school’s principal and assistant principal for details on how the teachers would be disciplined and was told, “it’s been handled” and that the teachers had “said they wouldn’t do it again.”
The Facebook exchange also was removed after it was revealed to the Wade family.
“The school isn’t doing anything about what happened,” Wade said. “If this is how teachers are talking on Facebook, who’s to say what goes on in the classroom? My child is in school to learn, not to be bullied or talked about. Those teachers need some more training, and they need to be at least suspended without pay.”
Wade said she has retained an attorney to press the school district for more substantial action against the teachers. Her goal, she said, is to make sure teachers realize how hurtful such comments can be to students.
She said the Facebook comments about her son surprised her because she has never been informed of any disciplinary problems any teachers have had with her son.
“If my child is being out of hand, send him a referral. Send him to the office. Send him home,” she said. “But don’t make comments about him on Facebook.”
Rogers Garden Principal Ann Broomes had issued a verbal reprimand to the teachers, McGonegal, the superintendent, said. Verbal reprimands are not documented in teachers’ personnel files. He said he cannot “second-guess” the decisions made by Broomes and her assistant, Quantas Simmons, but he can forward the situation to the state for an independent review.
McGonegal said he found the Facebook exchange offensive enough that he felt it was important to “create a paper trail.” The state could recommend anything from no action to revocation of the teachers’ certificates.
Broomes could not be reached for a comment; Simmons did not return a call seeking a comment.
None of the teachers involved could be reached for a comment. But Jennifer Camacho, a kindergarten teacher who also is a member of Rogers Garden’s school advisory council, said she and most other teachers she knew were “shocked” when they heard of the Facebook comments.
“We’re here to hold the kids up and boost their self-worth, not tear them down,” Camacho said. “I was shocked that any of our teachers would say anything like that. It’s like a slap in the face to our profession.”
School Board Chair Harry Kinnan said the comments were “harmful and hurtful” and that he feels some form of suspension would have been appropriate.
Orban, who wrote the original note, has been a teacher at Rogers Garden for two years and has a flawless record, said district spokesperson Margi Nanney. The district’s social-media policy is currently the subject of discussion between the district and the Manatee Education Association, which is the union representing Manatee’s teachers.