Scotlandville High School has a new principal even as the school’s old principal, removed after being caught on video breaking up a student fight using a stick, is trying to keep from being fired.
Tiffany Quiett took over as Scotlandville’s interim principal on Tuesday. She has spent the past few years as an administrator at Baton Rouge Magnet High, most recently as associate principal. She is the third principal at Scotlandville since longtime Principal Howard Davis became ill earlier this year.
East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Warren Drake said he met with faculty at Scotlandville High on Monday to introduce them to Quiett, whom he described as an outstanding educator.
Drake also acknowledged he is taking further disciplinary action against ex-Principal Calvin Nicholas but wouldn’t elaborate.
Nicholas said Drake is trying to fire him and has sent him a certified letter to that effect, which he received Sept. 26. Nicholas, who has hired lawyer Jill Craft, said he responded in writing on Thursday to the termination letter, demanding an administrative hearing to determine whether the firing is justified.
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.
At first silent about what happened, Nicholas of late has been defending himself publicly. He said he intervened to protect one child who was in danger of being badly hurt. The boy he struck with the stick was the main aggressor, he said.
The fight occurred after school after a security officer assigned to the school already had left for the day. Nicholas said he didn’t just jump in.
“I blew my whistle, and I yelled at them to get back,” he recalled.
Nicholas said he has long carried something around with him while he walks, which he said helps him think. Sometimes it’s a golf club, but on this occasion, it was what he called a flagpole stick. He said when he used it that day, it was the first time he’d ever used it to break up a fight.
A day after the fight, and after the video surfaced, Nicholas was placed on immediate suspension with pay.
Nicholas had been in the job only three months. He came from Baker High, where he was assistant principal.
Nicholas is a former football star, starting at McKinley High and then moving to Grambling State University. He also played one season of pro football with the San Francisco 49ers.
The school system’s student handbook forbids corporal punishment, but it has an exception that specifies “reasonable use of physical force and restraint may be necessary to stop a disturbance threatening physical injury to others,” which Nicholas said is exactly what happened.
Nicholas said that in talking to district officials in the wake of the fight, it became clear they view corporal punishment as never justified and that the principal, by intervening, was engaged in “intentional infliction of pain,” which is also prohibited.
“They think I maliciously hit the child to hurt him and not to break up a fight,” Nicholas said.
“The intent was to break up a fight; the intent wasn’t to create any bodily harm.”
He said his defense made no difference to Drake and that the superintendent has been looking for a reason to get rid of him since hiring him.
“I’m not sure why he came to get me when I was happy at Baker High,” Nicholas said.
The head of a local teachers union, Carnell Washington, went public Sept. 16, questioning having Nicholas suspended. Asked about the replacing and firing of Nicholas, Washington said it’s the wrong call for Drake and sends the wrong message to educators.
“There are facts I don’t know,” Washington said. “Be that as it may, I still think it’s a mistake to terminate anyone who’s caught in this kind of situation. It happens all the time. His just happened to make the news.”
Since he went public criticizing Nicholas’ suspension, Washington said, he’s continually stopped by people who express their support of the principal, though a few questioned his use of a stick.
“I have not heard one person that I’ve encountered who thought the man should lose his job,” Washington said.
An online petition seeking Nicholas’ reinstatement as principal had more than 1,700 signatures as of Friday afternoon. Nicholas said a separate paper petition has attracted more than 1,000 signatures.
Nicholas said that in the first of month of school, he had four fights, but he’s hearing that the school has had uptick in fights since he left and that the school system is not handling things well.
“They don’t understand the culture of the school,” Nicholas said.
One fight, which occurred after a Sept. 25 football game, sent 12-year-old Quinton Robinson to the hospital with skull fractures and swelling, and bleeding of his brain, according to the boy’s mother.
Robinson, who attends Woodlawn Middle School, was heading to the car when a group of teenagers came up from behind them in the school. According to the mother, one of the teenagers hit Quinton once in the head, dropping him to the ground, and the group fled. Witnesses and detectives have been unable to identify the attackers.