The head of a local teachers union is questioning the Sept. 1 suspension of the principal of Scotlandville High School after the educator was caught on video using a stick to break up a fight, in the process striking a student on the rear.
“If an educator cannot break up a fight to protect a student who is down, who is being jumped on by three or four of his peers, who is about to get stomped in the face, then what message are we sending?” asked Carnell Washington, president of the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Washington noted that civic, religious and civil rights leaders have tried to meet with East Baton Rouge Parish School Superintendent Warren Drake about the suspension of Principal Calvin Nicholas but were rebuffed because the case is still under investigation.
Washington urged Drake to carefully consider the consequences of keeping Nicholas under suspension.
“It is a slippery slope,” Washington said. “If the school system does not protect principals and teachers when they are trying to protect their students, then who will?”
A brief, blurry video taken by a bystander on Aug. 31, which emerged the next day, shows a fight outdoors between at least two male students, perhaps more. After a few seconds, a man bearing a stick and dressed in black — later identified as Nicholas — intervenes, striking the stick across the rear of one boy before pulling the boy aside.
Nicholas, who was named Scotlandville High’s principal in June, broke two weeks of silence Wednesday and issued a short statement, saying the problems Washington has identified are “very real and our schools are in trouble.”
“There are times when reasonable force is necessary, especially when weapons are being found on students in schools,” Nicholas said.
Nicholas said he was a member of the Federation of Teachers more than a decade ago, before he became an administrator.
The school system is not commenting on Nicholas’ suspension, noting that it is “an ongoing personnel matter,” spokeswoman Adonica Duggan said.
Scotlandville High, at 9870 Scotland Ave., has more than 1,400 students. Nicholas was assistant principal at Baker High before taking over at Scotlandville High.
In a Sept. 2 interview with The Advocate, Washington was more cautious in his rhetoric, emphasizing the pitfalls for educators who get drawn into student fights.
Washington on Wednesday noted that educators are rightfully wary of breaking up school fights and that his union alerts its members that they can be disciplined, injured or sued if they do intervene.
Since Nicholas was suspended, Washington said he’s visited the high school and talked with union members who teach there; everyone he spoke to wanted Nicholas to return.
“Teachers must have the authority to break up fights while using their best judgment or the students will run the school,” Washington said. “Once students realize that they have the power to get a principal or teacher fired for touching them when trying to discipline them, students will be in charge.”