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Republican gubernatorial contender Ralph Abraham says Gov. John Bel Edwards should demand the resignation of two of his appointees on Louisiana's top school board because they sided with a teacher accused of sending inappropriate text messages to a female high school student.

During Thursday night's debate, Abraham said the 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."

"The question to you governor is why haven't you called for their resignations, and how are parents to trust you to ensure that their children are safe in Louisiana classrooms?" he asked.

Edwards, a Democrat, replied that voters know he has a history of public service, including making sure citizens of the state are safe.

"I will find out what they knew and what they did and when they knew it in relationship to whatever decision they made with respect to their vote," the governor said of his appointees.

"And when I do that I will then make a determination whether their resignation is appropriate or not," he added.

The BESE appointees are Thomas Roque, of Alexandria, and Lurie Thomason, of Monroe.

Both serve on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, an 11-member panel that sets policies for about 720,000 public school students statewide.

Edwards, Abraham, Republican Eddie Rispone and others are on the Oct. 12 gubernatorial ballot, with early voting starting on Saturday.

Abraham is a congressman from Alto, which is near Monroe. His charge stems from the August meeting of BESE, when a teacher identified as William Jarrett Earvin tried to win approval for a teaching certificate since his license only good for a limited time was expiring.

Earvin had been a band teacher in the Baker School District and Herman Brister Sr., superintendent of the district, was at the meeting in support of the license request.

The issue sparked controversy because Earvin acknowledged on a state application form that he had previously had a teaching certificate censured.

According to an Atlanta television station, Earvin resigned as a band director there in 2013 after he said he made an error in judgement in sending inappropriate text messages to an 11th grade female.

No criminal charges were filed, officials said.

While an investigation was opened in Georgia, Earvin surrendered his certificate, according to state officials.

Under state policy, that meant it was up to BESE to decide whether to approve a long-term teaching certificate in Louisiana.

Roque made the motion in a BESE committee to do just that, with Thomason voting yes too, according to unofficial minutes of the meeting.

The motion failed on a 3-3 vote.

During the full board meeting, the panel voted on whether to shelve the request while the issue played out in Georgia.

It failed 5-5, with both Roque and Thomason voting "yes."

Finally, the board voted on whether to revoke Earvin's temporary license, and deny him a new one.

It also failed 5-5, with Roque and Thomason voting "no."

School districts are free to employ teachers even if they lack a certificate.

Earvin could not be reached for comment.

Brister said that, before Earvin was hired, he underwent a background check like other employees and nothing turned up.

Asked about the Georgia controversy he said, "When we hired him that was not presented to us. We had no knowledge of that. I can only operate on the information I have at hand."

Brister said Earvin is currently serving as a band teacher in the district.

Neither Roque nor Thomason returned calls for comment.

BESE President Gary Jones, who voted to deny the license, said Friday he did so because Earvin could have cleared his record in Georgia. "He voluntarily surrendered his license over there," Jones said.

"I didn't think that it was right to give him a license while he didn't have one in Georgia where it occurred," Jones said. "Georgia had more information."

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.

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