Documents released by the Barrow County School district contradict several claims made by former Apalachee High School teacher Ashley Payne in her lawsuit against the school system. The lawsuit, which is garnering international media attention, has generated both hate mail and death threats directed towards school officials.
Payne resigned August 27, 2009 after Apalachee High School principal David McGee confronted her regarding questionable online activity on the social networking site Facebook.
According to documents provided by the school system, Payne’s online activity was brought to their attention by a concerned parent.
In an email to Superintendent Ron Saunders, the parent complained that her daughter used profane language and, when reprimanded, defended herself by saying her teacher, Ashley Payne, used the same language on her Facebook page. According to the email, the daughter and Ms. Payne were Facebook friends. The parent further complained that Payne had “unacceptable pictures of herself smiling with alcohol for all her online friends to view.”
The parent provided Saunders with a copy of the photograph and requested the matter be investigated saying, “I am repulsed by Ms. Payne’ profane use of language and how she conducts herself as an example to my teenage daughter. Her behavior is intolerable.”
While the school system has yet to publicly identify the parent, Barrow County Schools public relations coordinator Lisa Leighton said, “To the best of my knowledge, the administrators are aware of who this parent is and who this student is.”
Payne denies that any student or parent of a student had access to her Facebook page. “She was not friends with any student or parent,” said Richard Storrs, Payne’s attorney.
In his response to the allegations to Payne’s lawsuit, principal McGee said his teachers are advised each year not to post anything on Facebook, MySpace or any other site that they would not want viewed by parents or students. McGee said teachers are specifically advised not to “friend” parents and students on web-based social pages.
McGee denies warning Payne that a suspension would adversely affect her chances for future employment and maintains he did not tell her to resign.
In her lawsuit, Payne claims McGee said her online conduct was unacceptable and that if she did not resign, she would be suspended. McGee further advised Payne that she “could not win this” and that resignation was her best option.
Both McGee and assistant principal Dorann Mansberger dispute Payne’s claim that she was forced to make a decision during the August 27 meeting. In written statements provided by the school district, both McGee and Mansberger claim Payne was presented with several options and asked several times if she would like time to consider her decision.
According to Mansberger, Payne opted to resign saying “she knew how small towns were.”
Since Payne’s lawsuit was made public, Superintendent Ron Saunders, McGee and other school officials have received over a dozen emails which Leighton categorized as “hate mail.”
Leighton said she and other school administrators have met with investigators from the Barrow County Sheriff’s Office regarding “more than one” death threat directed at McGee.
Due to the nature of the threats, Sheriff Jud Smith advised the school system to file a report so that his office can initiate an investigation.