New Center teacher serving 2-day suspension

System officials: No evidence of racism
May. 20, 2014 @ 09:32 AM

A New Center School teacher is serving out the second day of a two-day unpaid suspension today after an incident last Thursday at the K-8 school east of Sevierville.

The details of the incident are not entirely clear, and school officials are treading somewhat lightly around the situation.

The Mountain Press first learned of allegations of a conflict between a teacher and student where improper language, possibly racially-tinged words, were used.

Requests for information with the school system resulted in correspondence between the paper and administrators which shed some light on the story.

“Late last week, a situation was reported involving Denise Schlang, a teacher at New Center Elementary School,” Debra Cline, assistant superintendent, curriculam and instruction of Sevier County Schools, said by email Monday.

“That situation was an isolated incident and was immediately addressed.

“Ms. Schlang was placed on administrative leave and was ultimately suspended for two days without pay.”

Schlang is a tenured, long-term teacher, central office officials noted, calling her a “good classroom teacher.” 

During a late afternoon meeting with Director of Schools Jack A. Parton, Cline and system attorney Chris McCarty Monday, the officials added more insight into the incident.

“There was a discussion held with students present, where various racial slurs were discussed. There was no evidence, no hint, that those words were directed towards an individual student or any students as a group,” Cline said.

“She was basically suspended for language and demeanor with a student that happened later that day.

“There was no evidence that would make us believe that Ms. Schlang did anything noted or rooted in racism.”

“There’s no evidence that came up that this teacher in any way did anything racially motivated,” McCarty added.

“A lot of times the context, the situation, the discussion may be heard and misinterpreted, but the bottom line is: There was no evidence that there was anything said that was rooted in racism,” Cline said.

The suspension was made under Sevier County School Board policy 219, which reads, in part, that: “A director of schools/designee may suspend a teacher for incompetence, inefficiency, neglect of duty, unprofessional conduct and/or insubordination.”

The policy says the teacher must be given written notice, including the reason for the suspension and explanation of the evidence.

Schlang’s suspension was served Monday and Tuesday.

The system investigated the allegations on Friday.

“If there is an allegation or some sort of accusation, related to a teacher, then there is a full investigation,” Cline said.

“Dr. Parton would be involved in helping to direct how that would occur.

“We have our normal procedures to ensure we get as much information about the situation as possible, and then at the end of gathering that information and doing a good job of being thorough ... and talking to as many people as possible that would have been involved, then he makes a decision.”

Parton said Schlang would report back for duty Wednesday, but she would not finish out the year at New Center.

“She’s going to be reporting back for the remainder of the school year at Parkway Academy,” the director said.

Parton said the move is not punishment, but to “diffuse” the tensions that may have been created at New Center with Thursday’s incident.

“I think it’s in the best interest of the school system and (Schlang), that we let things calm down,” Parton said.