Sexuality the deciding factor in program’s closure
UPDATES: Instructor Cequana Clark informed The Examiner on Thursday evening, Sept. 13, that she has been asked to turn in her keys and receipt book, terminating her employment with BISD. Clark anticipated losing half her paycheck with the cancelation of the adult cosmetology program, but she was still employed as a night-class instructor for the Taylor Center. That was before she says Principal Thomas Amons told her, "We've decided to let you go. We don't need your services anymore."
A Facebook group with more than 300 members, Southeast Texans Against BISD’s Taylor Center Principal Thomas Amons, has organized a protest for Saturday, Sept. 15, in front of the BISD administration building beginning at 10 a.m. The group is organized by Amy Loupe Jones. Member Mo Taylor-Boggan said Amons’ actions are just not acceptable. “If nothing else, at least an investigation needs to be presented,” said Taylor-Boggan, a mother of children in BISD and herself a graduate of BISD. The BISD administration building is at 3395 Harrison Ave. The Facebook group can be found at http://www.facebook.com/groups/443070862405312/
BISD officials released a statement to some local news outlets 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."
Contrary to BISD's statement, however, the program instructor has documentation that shows that at least one BISD Taylor Career Center graduate was continuing toward her license this semester in the adult program.
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After more than a decade, the Adult Cosmetology class offered through Beaumont Independent School District’s Taylor Career and Technology Center is closing. The reason, instructor Cequana Clark says, is that Principal Thomas Amons would rather close the program than admit a man Amons thought was gay after a brief encounter with the prospective student on the first day of class Sept 10.
“I don’t understand this. I really don’t,” Clark said. “(Amons) told me he would rather shut down the program altogether than to have ‘riff-raff’ like that in the program. The next day, he shut down the program.”
Clark, who has headed the adult cosmetology program since 2009 at BISD, said, “Earlier this year, I learned he had a problem with gay guys while we were at the hair show in April.” Clark said at the hair show, Amons told her that he never wanted to see “flamboyantly gay guys” in the BISD program like the men enrolled at other programs competing in the event.
“I couldn’t believe it then; I kind of thought he was just venting at that time,” Clark said of what she called an awkward encounter. Clark said she knew Amons was serious when 22-year-old Kwmane Gray tried to enroll in the program.
“As soon as we got a student that (Amons) thought was gay, that was the end. He saw (Gray) come into the class, and then he came to get me out of there,” Clark said of Principal Amons, a man who also serves as a deacon at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. The instructor said she was told to tell Gray he wasn’t welcome in the program. Feeling a moral objection to what was taking place, she refused. “I told (Amons) if he wanted to tell that young man that, he would need to do that himself.”
After bringing another instructor in on the conversation, Amons said he would consult BISD’s legal representation on how to proceed.“The next day (Sept. 11), (Amons) told me that the legal department said he couldn’t exclude (Gray) based on his sexual preference, but that as the principal of the school he could decide to no longer offer the program. He said the last day would be Thursday, Sept. 13.”
The closing of the program not only affected new enrollees like Gray, Clark added; four students were already enrolled in the program when classes were set to resume Sept. 10. Clark said enrollment has steadily increased in the program since she started in 2009, jumping from two students to eight when the call came down to close the program. Clark, who aside from her BISD job holds positions as a pastor of a Groves church and owner of a salon in Beaumont, said she is heartbroken at the thought of students not being able to utilize the much-needed program any longer.
“I take this very seriously. Most of my students coming in are single moms trying to move ahead and make a life for themselves. My thing is, I bust my tail off with this program: I give God the glory because it’s been doing good since I’ve been there. At the very least, I’d like to see Mr. Amons apologize to that young man and to allow those already entered in the program to finish their instruction to get licensed,” Clark said, adding that the right thing to do would be to continue the program and allow Gray to enter.
“The whole thing is just mind-blowing.”
Clark said she had mixed feelings about speaking out about what she knew concerning the closure of the adult cosmetology class, but in the end, she had to do what she knew was right.
“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.”
Clark was right to worry about her job. She informed The Examiner on Thursday evening, Sept. 13, that she has been asked to turn in her keys and receipt book, terminating her employment with BISD. Clark anticipated losing half her paycheck with the cancelation of the adult cosmetology program, but she was still employed as a night-class instructor for the Taylor Center. That was before she says Principal Thomas Amons told her, "We've decided to let you go. We don't need your services anymore."
Students rally for fairness, education
“This is like a hate crime,” Gray told The Examiner. Gray, who has spent the last three semesters as an A and B Lamar University student, said he was initially excited to start the BISD program to save on cost of tuition and acquire his cosmetology license in enough time to enter Lamar State College – Orange in January to finish course work toward becoming a certified nurse by the spring of next year. “He never even talked to me. He just judged me. I don’t know and I don’t care (why); I just don’t want him to be over any other kids and maybe do that to them, too. He can cause a lot of trouble for students like that.”
Gray said he is gay but has never been open about his sexuality before now, and was forced into the spotlight when word was given to the entire class that the reason no one would be furthering their education in cosmetology was because of him.
“Six or seven other girls in there can’t get their license because of me,” Gray explained. “That just isn’t right.
“Right now, I can see I’m going to need counseling. I wasn’t at the point in my life to really open up about my sexuality. This is a big depression on me – he thought I was gay, and he didn’t want me around. That’s pretty tough to hear.”
Other students attempting to enroll in this semester’s classes also had stern words for the administration.
Liliana Gonzalez, who has already invested registration fees and over 600 hours in the program, wrote a letter to principal Amons. “I don’t think this is fair,” she said. “(Gray) is a human, I already spent time and money in this class ... because I want a better life, and now what?”“This is honestly ridiculous,” returning student Ashley Martinez wrote. “I never heard of something like this happening for such a stupid reason.”
Martinez also had a warning for Amons.
“If you think you’re going to get away with this, you’re more than wrong.”
Prospective student Arilene Serna said she, too, was appalled by the decision-making process that allowed prejudice against homosexuals to end class instruction, adding “It’s so not fair to the students that have already been studying in the program. I’m really disappointed the cosmetology program is going to be shut down for a reason meant to hurt someone.”
Gray’s mother, Sharee Logan, said she was hurt, angered and disappointed by what she learned from BISD instructor Clark in the aftermath of the adult cosmetology program’s closure.
“My son is trying to be somebody in life,” Logan said through strained tears. “He is trying to go to school; he’s in his last semester.“(Amons) discriminated against my son, just from looking at him. I thought we lived in America. This has hurt me so bad for him to call my son a riff-raff.
“Whether my son is gay or not is none of his business. We live in a time where people are committing suicide behind stuff like this. This is my only son.
“I want this story to be told. This is not right. I don’t appreciate it. I’m a Christian myself, but God said to love everybody.”No comment
Attempts to reach Amons at his office were unsuccessful. Multiple messages left with various BISD officials – communication representatives Jessie Haynes and Ron Reynolds, assistant superintendent Patria Lambert, and BISD legal counsel Melody Chappell – were also unanswered as of press time.
BISD trustee Tom Neild said if the facts surrounding the program closure are all true, he’s appalled.
“Even though this is impacting just a few students, it’s very important to those students,” he said. “I definitely intend on following this matter to get to the bottom of this.”
Adult cosmetology instructor Clark said she hopes her boss, Amons, can have a change of heart, but she isn’t holding her breath at this point.
“I just can’t imagine him doing this,” she said. “I don’t really think he thought this whole thing out.”
Jennifer Johnson can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 231, or by e-mail at jennifer [at] theexaminer [dot] com.