BISD document hunt: Week 3 produces (some) results
Sept. 12, 2012, The Examiner started an investigation into the closing of the Beaumont Independent School District’s Adult Cosmetology night class program, which had been offered for more than a decade at the district’s Taylor Career and Technology Center. The program was canceled abruptly the evening of Sept. 11 after classes had already resumed for the fall semester because, according to instructor Cequana Clark, campus principal Thomas Amons didn’t want a man he thought might be gay to enter the program as a student.
Clark said principal Amons at first wanted to deny entry to the student, 22-year-old Kwmane Gray, but was advised against excluding anyone based on their sexual orientation. According to Clark, Amons then decided to cancel the program altogether.
“The whole thing is just mind-blowing,” Clark said when talking to the newspaper. At the time of her interview, Clark was still employed with the district. Since that time, she has been relieved of her duties with the district. It was a move foreshadowed by Clark in her earlier interview, Sept. 12.
“It’s a chance they may fire me all the way, and honestly that’s a chance I’m willing to take,” she said. “I made up in my mind I’m not going to compromise or lie for anyone. I love my job – love it, love it, love it – but I have to stand up for what’s right.”
BISD officials released a statement to some local news outlets Sept. 13 defending Amons’ decision: “Due to budget restraints and no Beaumont ISD cosmetology graduates registering for the class, the Taylor Career center is no longer offering an extended courtesy evening cosmetology class for adults. Amons stressed that the high school cosmetology program at Taylor still exists. But he said the school can no longer afford to fund the part of the program serving non-BISD cosmetology program graduates.”
A request for documents supporting BISD’s position that “budget restraints” prompted the closure of a class after it already started has not yet been answered. A separate request for Principal Amons’ district e-mails has been filled, but only in part, however.
As a result of a Freedom of Information request, BISD produced thousands of pages of e-mails sent to and from Amons for roughly a week’s time-span. In the documents were hundreds of e-mails from outraged mailers expressing concern over the Adult Cosmetology program’s closure. Also produced in the requested correspondence were e-mails to program instructor Cequana Clark confirming the first day of class after BISD had approved the school year budget for 2012-13, requests for information from BISD spokesman Ron Reynolds that were forwarded to the principal upon receipt from media, and notes of religious encouragement from Taylor Career Center educator Jana Richard.
What was not produced were e-mails the district had felt were excludable. After BISD’s public relations and legal departments poured over the correspondence, several items were kept from public scrutiny. A summary of the withheld documents was submitted to the Texas Attorney General for direction as to whether the items were required by law to be public domain. Among the list of topics of communication withheld were “personal e-mails,” “electronic communications (that) relate to litigation in which the district may be a party” and “confidential communications by and between the district’s counsel and the district concerning an employee grievance matter.”
BISD still has a week to respond to an official request for Taylor Career Center’s financial documents. A response should also be forthcoming from the Texas Attorney General’s Office regarding the withheld e-mails, but the timeframe has not been established.