Valdosta Daily Times

September 15, 2009

Controversy leads to resignation request

Cason asked to step down by community members

By Johnna Pinholster

VALDOSTA — The Rev. Floyd Rose called for Valdosta City School Superintendent Dr. Bill Cason’s resignation Monday night.

During the regular Board of Education meeting Rose, president of the Valdosta/Lowndes County Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, spoke to the board about the superintendent’s decision not to air President Barack Obama’s speech on education during school hours.

Rose and hundreds of others converged on the BOE office demanding answers for why the speech was not shown in a school system that is predominately black.

On the day the speech was scheduled to air, Rose and others met with Cason and discussed why the speech would not be shown. Cason, Rose said, had plenty of time between the meeting and the speech to call the schools and tell them to allow the children to watch the speech.

Rose said Cason’s reasons for not showing the speech were that it did not align with the Georgia Performance Standards that are the basis for school lesson plans and that the speech and the lesson plans provided would cut into instructional time.

“Let us be clear,” Rose said. “We read the President’s speech, and at no time did he propose lesson plans before, during, or after his speech, as claimed by Dr. Cason. He never mentioned lesson plans. Never.”

Rose went on to say that any offer to show the speech later is not acceptable, he said.

“Here is what I know, here is what you know, here is what the hundreds of people here and out in the street know,” Rose said. “If Dr. Cason were black and 80 percent of the school children in his district were white, and he arbitrarily decided not to allow white children to watch a white president’s ‘back to school’ speech,’ and whites came here tonight in the numbers that blacks have come to protest, he would resign, or be fired. And we are here to demand no less.”

Rose got a standing ovation after his address to the board.

Cason then responded to what he called “allegations and accusations.”

He said that he received notification of the speech only several days before it was scheduled to be shown.

Cason went on to say that lesson plans were included to be used before, during and after the speech.

During his comments a person from the audience shouted “He lies!”

As the lesson plans were presented they did not align with GPS, Cason said.

Checking around with other school systems in the area he found that many chose not to air the speech at its scheduled time and if they did they had provisions where students could opt out of watching the speech.

“Before I did my job as superintendent I had to make sure the lesson plans fit GPS,” he said.

Every school has copies of the speech, both on DVD and VHS; instructors at the schools will now take the speech and lesson plans and align them with GPS to use in the classroom.

“I wanted to find a way to incorporate the lesson plans into GPS,” he said.

Tift County is doing a similar project, Brooks County chose not to air the speech, Thomas County and Thomas City plan to incorporate the speech into lesson plans once it is aligned with GPS, Lowndes County showed the speech with the provision of opting out, Coffee County did not show the speech at all and Lanier County was teacher’s choice with the provision it align with GPS, Cason said.

During Cason’s run down of other school system’s decision a person from the audience shouted, “Those schools are not 80 percent black.”

In addition to the speech being used in the classrooms, all media centers in the system will have copies of the speech available to be checked out, Cason said.

He urged the audience to look at the good things the school system is achieving, including a 12.2 percent increase in the number of black students graduating from high school, the International Baccalaureate program and much more.

“I am not a racist,” Cason said. “And I am not a person that does not put children first.”

Cason said that what has hurt him the most were the students at the high school who he had considered as students he was on “gentlemanly terms” who turned their backs on him last week when he was at the school.

The comment got applause from the audience.

“I regret that more than anything else,” he said.

Rose then got back up to the podium to respond. Response after a comment is not usual BOE protocol, but Rose was allowed.

He first said that he did not call Cason a racist.

Rose then asked out of all the school districts Cason contacted, how many, if any, had a black superintendent.

Cason said Thomasville City had a black superintendent.

Rose then asked if Cason had consulted with any of the black board members before making the decision not to air the speech.

Annie Fisher, District 1, shook her head no.

Warren Lee, District 3, said that when the decision was made and with the information he was given by Cason at the time he agreed with it.

Lee said he took into consideration the fact that several of the schools in the system are considered failing schools and the need to get them back on track.

Rose said there was nothing that could be said to justify this action.

Cason said he would apologize to any of those in the audience who had their feelings hurt over the matter.

Rose said he guessed that Cason just didn’t get that every black child in the school district needed to hear the speech.

After Rose’s final statement, the board proceeded to move forward with their regular meeting but others in the audience stood up and began demanding that they too be heard.

Chairman Ricky Rowe, District 8, said that Rose was the only person scheduled to speak and that they would not move forward with the meeting.

Shouts of “I thought this was about us, The parents are in charge of this and this is our time, Why can’t we have a few minutes?, They don’t care about us, They all need to resign, Pull them off the football field” could be heard from the audience.

Valdosta Police Department Cmdr. Brian Childress then stepped in and told the audience that the board was required to follow the agenda and that the meeting must move forward.

It then took several minutes for the majority of those gathered to leave the meeting.

After the meeting, Larry Lockey, Georgia State Conference NAACP District 18 Coordinator, questioned that with so many children being put in in school suspension and out of school suspension in the school system, why wasn’t a speech about staying in school aired to the students.

“It was a poor decision by the Valdosta City School superintendent,” he said.