Carencro Middle School Principal Spurgeon Banyard’s certification to teach in Louisiana was suspended Tuesday but reinstated Wednesday after he says he provided the state Education Department information that refuted allegations he had a criminal record.
Banyard, who was hired by the Lafayette Parish School System in 2012 as principal of Carencro Middle, said he has worked to improve a low-performing school that was riddled with discipline issues. He said he’s received pushback from some employees over some of his management decisions. Two employees have filed civil lawsuits against him.
He said believes that accusations were made to the state Department of Education that temporarily affected his certification status in retaliation for changes he’s made at the school.
Those accusations would appear to be related to Banyard’s 1998 conviction of embezzlement of $541 from the city of Jackson, Mississippi. Banyard questioned how those records are publicly available, telling The Acadiana Advocate that the conviction was expunged, which would typically remove it from public view.
“I have no criminal record on me at all,” Banyard said Thursday. “I do have the paperwork and my attorney has the paperwork that it’s expunged.” He declined to talk about the conviction.
A Hinds County records clerk said Thursday that Banyard’s embezzlement charge is still in the court record.
The school system received notification of the certification issue Tuesday, but Banyard continued to work Tuesday and Wednesday at the middle school.
Lafayette Parish School System Human Resources Director Bruce Leininger said he received notification Wednesday morning from the Education Department that Banyard’s certification had been reinstated and that the issue stemmed from the time Banyard worked in Mississippi.
“It’s my understanding that the issue in question was not a criminal or felony offense. It was a misdemeanor, and therefore, they could not suspend him,” Leininger said.
Leininger did not have details about the misdemeanor offense.
Ken Pastorick, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Education, declined to explain the certificate switches, saying it is a personnel issue.
He also cited a specific chapter in Louisiana Bulletin 746 that outlines reasons why a teacher certification could be suspended. The bulletin, for example, says certification is suspended when the department is notified about a teacher’s felony conviction. While teacher certification also could be suspended for certain misdemeanors, theft is not one of those crimes.
Banyard offered to provide The Acadiana Advocate with records of the expungement but later referred questions to his attorney, Ross Barnett Jr. Barnett told The Acadiana Advocate that he had not received authorization from Banyard to speak to a reporter or to release a record showing that the charge had been expunged.
Leininger said Thursday that he couldn’t disclose any other details about Banyard’s situation but that the information Banyard supplied to state Education Department staff must have been sufficient for reinstatement.
When Banyard applied to the Lafayette Parish School System, the application he filled out specifically asked, “Have you ever been convicted of a violation of the law other than a minor traffic violation?” Banyard checked “no.”
When asked if Banyard lied on the job application, Leininger said, “It is a personnel matter. I have several questions based on what I understand occurred.”
He said he planned to meet with the board’s attorney Thursday afternoon.
“They’re the ones that have the hard data and I need to confirm with them: Did he lie? Did he not lie? Why did the state decide to suspend and then reinstate him?,” Leininger said. “I’ll take their guidance on what the next steps are.”
During his tenure at the Carencro Middle, Banyard said, he’s made positive changes that have contributed to the school’s letter grade ranking by the state Education Department improving from a D rating to a C.
Despite the improvements at the school, he said Wednesday that he’s had to deal with some employees who haven’t agreed with his decisions.
“I removed a lot of people who were incompetent and not doing their job and sitting around for years just collecting a paycheck,” he said. “I value children’s lives. That’s why I’m in the position I’m in today.”
Two of his former Carencro Middle employees have filed civil lawsuits against him.
One lawsuit filed last year by former Carencro Middle Assistant Principal Ada Thomas accused Banyard of sexual harassment, undermining her in front of staff and refusing to repay her for out-of-pocket expenses. More recently, special education teacher Sandra Stevens filed a civil complaint against Banyard in January in both federal and state district courts alleging the principal discriminated and retaliated against her because she rejected his sexual advances. Both women’s cases are still pending.
Banyard has denied the allegations.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.