BESE vote

Louisiana's top school board Tuesday, May 7, 2019, opted to stick with its earlier request for a $39 million increase for public schools.

Gov. John Bel Edwards believes that a Baker teacher accused of sending inappropriate text messages to an 11th grade female student, should have the controversy resolved in Georgia, where it took place, before he is certified in Louisiana.

But the governor will not seek the resignation of his two appointees to the state's top school board who sided with the teacher when the controversy arose in August, Edwards' office said late Tuesday night.

Edwards' office also said Republican Congressman Ralph Abraham mischaracterized the issue when he told the governor during last week's governor's candidate debate that he should demand the resignation of the two panel members: Thomas Roque, of Alexandria, and Lurie Thomason, of Monroe.

The volatile topic is especially sensitive since Edwards, Abraham and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone are embroiled in a heated race for governor ahead of the Oct. 12 primary.

The issue stems from a debate at the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on whether Baker band teacher William Jarrett Earvin should have his teacher certificate renewed amid controversy.

An Atlanta television station reported that Earvin resigned as a band director at a school there in 2013 after he said he made an error in judgment in sending inappropriate text messages to the student. No criminal charges were filed, officials said.

Abraham said in a statement Wednesday that Edwards' response was inadequate. "I'm disgusted that John Bel Edwards would make excuses for his appointees voting to allow a known sexual predator into Louisiana's classrooms," said Abraham, who lives in Alto, La.

"This is politics over people at its finest," Abraham said. "That will not be tolerated in an Abraham administration."

When Georgia authorities opened an investigation, Earvin surrendered his certificate and left the state.

The BESE debate boiled down to whether the accusations were enough to deny teacher certification to Earvin.

Certification is generally viewed as a sign of teacher quality, and boosting those numbers has been a longtime state goal.

Teachers in traditional public schools are required to be certified but there are no consequences for failing to meet the rules and local educator decisions typically prevail.

Roque, one of Edwards' three BESE appointees, made the motion in a BESE committee to recommend to the full board that Earvin get the certification, according to unofficial minutes of the meeting.

Thomason backed the motion, which failed 3-3.

BESE member Jada Lewis, of Baton Rouge, also voted "yes."

The three "no" votes were cast by Tony Davis, of Natchitoches, Gary Jones, who lives near Alexandria, and Sandy Holloway, of Thibodaux.

During the full board meeting, Roque and Thomason voted in favor of delaying action on the request until the issue played out in Georgia. It failed 5-5.

In the final vote, a bid to deny certification, also failed 5-5 with Roque and Thomason among the "no" votes.

Edwards said he believes that, while Earvin's employment is up to the Baker School District, BESE should not renew his certification unless he is able to have his certificate reinstated in Georgia, according to his office.

But the governor disputed Abraham's comment that the governor's two appointees "voted to allow a teacher into a Louisiana classroom who had just lost his teaching certificate in Georgia for sending sexually inappropriate text messages to a minor." 

"Congressman Abraham was not correct when he stated that the BESE members were voting to allow Mr. Earvin to be a teacher in the Baker School District," Shauna Sanford, a spokeswoman for Edwards, said in a statement.

"BESE does not have the authority to make that decision, which instead is made by individuals in the school district and the school who are able to observe a teacher's performance and are ultimately responsible for determining whether than teacher should remain employed," Sanford said.

She noted that Baker Superintendent Herman Brister Sr., who appeared at the BESE meeting, urged the panel to approve the certification request.

Brister said last week Earvin is teaching for the district and that nothing turned up in a background investigation before he was hired.

Sanford said Abraham's response to the governor's stance shows he "clearly does not understand how BESE works."

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.