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Jeffco school board member censured

Jefferson County school board members on Thursday censured one of their own – board member Laura Boggs – for “unethical behavior” after Boggs reportedly threatened to derail a $32.8 million federal grant and to “tear this county apart.”

The threats, relayed by Superintendent Cindy Stevenson after a meeting between the two on Dec. 10, were described by board members as just the latest in a string of inappropriate behavior by Boggs since her 2009 election.

“I believe that if we don’t do something now we’re going to be looking at three more years of this and I think that is not acceptable,” board member Paula Noonan said before the 4-0 vote to censure.

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Boggs, who was not allowed to vote on the censure motion, said Stevenson’s characterizations of their meeting as described in a Dec. 13 letter to board members are “grossly misstated.”

“Do I think it was a nice meeting? Absolutely not,” Boggs said, adding that she believed a ‘he said, she said’ rebuttal was pointless. “I am going to … vehemently deny the accusations in that letter.”

A censure is essentially a formal public rebuke of Boggs but it carries no other weight. Noonan proposed also removing Boggs from committees on which she serves as a board representative but delayed that motion until January.

Boggs declined comment today, citing the board’s policy of having its president, Dave Thomas, deal with press inquiries. She typically has declined to discuss reports of her impropriety with the media for that reason.

Shortly before Thursday’s board vote, a community group led by Jeffco parent Eric Westerhausen called on board members to request Boggs’ resignation, saying they could no longer sit idly by while her behavior tarnished the reputation of the board and the district.

Westerhausen today called the censure “long overdue.”

Jeffco school board member Laura Boggs

“I originally voted for Laura Boggs and I think it’s a clear example of somebody who campaigns in a certain way to achieve kind of a centrist, populist view to get votes so that she gets in office,” he said. “Her actions certainly following that have not supported what we expect of an elected official in this county.”

Thursday’s call for Boggs’ resignation follows similar public speeches in past months.

Last March, Kerrie Dallman, head of the Jefferson County teachers’ union, called on board members to curb Boggs’ behavior. The union also began a newsletter called “Boggs Watch” to record her “rogue” antics.

In June, a group that included former state Sen. Norma Anderson and former school board member Hereford Percy registered complaints and one, Phyllis Albritton, requested a censure of Boggs.

Among the actions cited by Westerhausen, board members and others as inappropriate:

  • Boggs voted with the rest of the board to oppose the anti-tax ballot initiatives 60, 61 and 101 but then publicly endorsed the measures
  • Boggs publicly suggested the district refrain from hiring principals with young children
  • Boggs entered a classroom at Green Mountain High School and, during a lesson, linked the words “school” and “stupid” on the white board
  • Boggs inserted herself in individual school issues, including a contentious boundary dispute in Indian Hills

But Martin Richardson, an Indian Hills resident and key proponent of the boundary change, said Boggs neither orchestrated nor was heavily involved in the issue.

“We are in the district where she got elected. Isn’t she supposed to be part of that community and represent that community?” he said. “It’s insulting to me because we did all the work.”

Much of Thursday’s discussion, however, centered on what was said in the meeting between Boggs and Stevenson. In her letter, Stevenson wrote that Boggs said she was going to call Washington, D.C., in an attempt to endanger the district’s grant for teacher performance pay.

Jeffco school board president Dave Thomas
Jeffco school board president Dave Thomas

“If the allegation is that one board member was going to try to interfere with the largest grant this district has ever received, unilaterally… I am really concerned,” said Thomas, the board president.

“I am equally concerned that for the past 12 months, the dynamics of this board have changed dramatically … the relationships between board members and between at least one board member and the superintendent have become extremely acrimonious, in my opinion, and it has prevented this board from moving forward.”

It’s the first time a board member in the state’s largest school district has been censured, according to district spokeswoman Lynn Setzer.

Jeffco board members have asked a sitting board member to resign. That occurred in July 2008 when members asked for the resignation of Vince Chowdhury, after he entered a guilty plea to misdemeanor assault for slapping his teen-aged daughter.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede