Warren County BOE member discriminates against military

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April 23, 2007

WARREN CTY, Ga.---Discriminating against US service members who apply for jobs is illegal, and some would say it's also unethical.

In Warren County, a Board of Education member is using an applicant's military background as a reason to deny employment.

Superintendent Dr. Carole Jean Carey says that she was extremely bothered when the comments were first made, and even more so when a community member came to her office after hearing the comments in the meeting.

Now she says something must be done.

"We do not discriminate against applicants, whether they are military or non-military," said Gwen Tucker, chairman of the Warren County BOE.

"We have a principal who's ex-military, we have several teachers, and I just hate for us to get to be classified in a bad light, with a board member saying a particular group is not fit to serve our schools," Carey said. "I just have a real problem with that."

Tucker and Carey want the message clear: having a military background does not hurt your chances of teaching in Warren County.

But not everyone thinks the way they do.

At a recent board meeting, one member, Clara Roberts, spoke out against a former Navy officer who applied for an advanced math teaching position. According to the meeting transcripts, Roberts described "military people" as not working well "in settings like this with children" and questioned why the applicant, who has a degree in physics, even wanted to come and teach there.

"You simply have to chalk it up to ignorance that anyone would have feelings like that," said BOE vice chairman James Newsome. Newsome, a Vietnam veteran, says the military applicant is without a doubt qualified.

"This applicant was a naval graduate, engineering and physics I believe it was, to serve as commander in the US Navy...I can't think of any reason that anyone could say this person is not qualified," he said. "You are a teacher if you're an officer or if you're in a leadership position. That's what leadership is all about is teaching."

"The rest of the board members and I feel like we have to distance ourselves from her remarks, because they do not reflect the opinions of this board or this community," Supt. Carey said.

To make that crystal clear, the school's attorney drafted a letter to be sent to the Warren County newspaper. Carey says that this type of discrimination will not be tolerated.

"Just to lump them all in one category, not fit for our students...I have a real problem with that," she said.

"There's a reason why the law in Georgia allows five people to be on the Board of Education, because it keeps one person from doing stupid things," Newsome said.

"It really bothers me for people to have those kinds of opinions, but if it's a personal opinion, keep it to yourself," Carey said.

The board voted 4-1 to offer that retired naval officer the teaching position.

As for the comments made, the school's attorney says that the school system could be sued because of the perception that military applicants are discriminated.

Roberts was unavailable for comment.

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