Former Henderson Independent principal files lawsuit

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 1, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — The former principal of Henderson Independent High is accusing the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education of discriminating against her and the students who attend the alternative school because of their race.
And Trisha Hutson-Baptist alleges the board assigns other black students to “inadequate and inferior facilities” and deprives them of a good education.
Baptist claims in a discrimination lawsuit filed Sept. 9 in U.S. District Court that she lost her job at Henderson after she pointed out discrimination at Henderson to Rowan-Salisbury School System leaders.
She is asking the court to force the school system to rehire her at Henderson and pay damages.
Baptist served as principal of the school for one year, resigning Aug. 29 after being placed on paid suspension July 5. She claims in her lawsuit the district offered no reason for the disciplinary action and did not advise her of any problems with her job performance.
The lawsuit says Baptist learned after school started Aug. 23 that the system had hired a replacement, and that the school system dismissed her with “no notice or explanation of its action.”
Rita Foil, the school system’s spokeswoman, said the district received a letter of resignation from Baptist Sept. 6 with an effective date of Aug. 29.
The Rowan-Salisbury School System posted the position on its website Aug. 30 offering $1,000 a month in incentive pay in addition to the regular salary.
The job ad is still on the school system website. Friday was the deadline for applicants, according to the posting. Foil said she did not know how many people had applied.
Baptist’s lawsuit also alleges the district follows a pattern of discriminating against minority students who attend Henderson by providing them with fewer resources and accommodations because of their race.
She blamed the lack of resources and necessary courses for the school’s failure to prepare students for college.
The lawsuit says that during her tenure at Henderson, Baptist tried to obtain additional resources to improve academic performance and progress of the students there, but her efforts were “to no avail.”
Baptist alleges when she complained about the “discriminatory allocation of resources,” school officials harassed and intimidated her.
Besides those who attend Henderson, the lawsuit claims the Rowan-Salisbury School System discriminates against other black students by assigning them to “inferior schools and providing them with inadequate and inferior facilities.”
The suit asks the court to order the system to provide a “sound basic, equal education opportunity for all students, with equal staffing, facilities and resources for all students” and treat all staff equally.
Baptist was the assistant principal at South Charlotte Middle School before moving to Henderson, where she replaced Ken Sherill as principal in August 2010.
After landing a $2.2 million federal grant last July, the school system was required to replace the principal and at least half the teaching staff.
The grant to improve student achievement and increase the graduation rate is awarded to the bottom 5 percent of the state’s consistently lowest-achieving schools.
Henderson’s graduation rate hovered around 10 percent in the two years before Baptist took over. Last year’s graduation rate grew to 34.6 percent.
Baptist is seeking to be reinstated with back salary pay and the benefits she received before her dismissal. She is also asking the court to award punitive damages for harm to her professional reputation.
Julius Chambers, a Charlotte-based civil rights attorney, is representing Baptist in the case. He could not be reached for comment.
Ken Soo, a Raleigh-based attorney, is representing the Rowan-Salisbury school board. He has requested an extension to answer Baptist’s complaint in order to “investigate and prepare responses” to the allegations. Multiple messages left by a Post reporter seeking comment were not returned.
School officials and board chairman Dr. Jim Emerson declined to comment on the case.