Education

Jefferson County Public Schools fired a teacher last month who cursed at students and used the N-word in a middle school classroom.

Records obtained by WFPL News show Carrithers Middle School math teacher Thomas Hicks received notice of his termination on May 2, 2022. Hicks’ termination letter states the district ended his contract “on the basis of insubordination, conduct unbecoming a teacher, inefficiency, incompetency and neglect of duty.”

“You and another teacher used racially insensitive language and profanity in the presence of students,” the letter reads, describing the March 18 incident at Carrithers. “You humiliated and embarrassed students in front of their peers by singling out specific students … you repeatedly used the n-word, cracker and profanity among other things.”

Hicks and a second teacher, Lori Hays, were reassigned in March after an 8-minute video surfaced on social media, showing the teachers berating a group of students.

Hays did not curse in the video, but dismissed “COVID trauma” as an excuse for bad behavior and said she was “tired” of hearing about the role race plays in police interactions.

Records show Hays was initially terminated, but that the action was rescinded after Hays filed a grievance challenging her termination. JCPS spokesperson Carolyn Callahan confirmed Hays is still employed by the JCPS.

Neither Hays nor Hicks responded to requests for comment by Tuesday afternoon.

Records show history of difficulty managing student behavior

Hicks had a history of struggling with student behavior, and the teacher described himself as traumatized by his interactions with students, records show.

“You allege that you have been physically threatened by multiple students. You allege that you were verbally and physically assaulted by students and that students use homophobic, racial, and derogatory language toward one another and adults…You said you were told, depending on the time of day, that administrators may not be able to respond to calls due to lunchroom duties, which you believe sets teachers up for failure,” Hicks’ termination letter reads.

His termination letter also describes an October 2021 incident, in which the teacher lost consciousness and was treated by EMS after an argument with a student. 

According to a transcript of a 2021 due process meeting, Hicks grabbed a student by the backpack after the student refused to put his mask on and cursed at teachers. Hicks said the student pushed and elbowed him. He told administrators he “could feel he was getting ready to have a panic attack” and headed to the parking lot where he lost consciousness.

In response to the incident, Carrithers Middle School Principal Marcella Franklin-Williams instructed Hicks “not to go after a student in any situation, but to notify the office or an administrator.”

Hicks told his union representative and Franklin-Williams that he gave the March 2022 profanity-laden lecture after students came into the classroom throwing books, coins, yelling and using inappropriate language. 

According to the letter, Hicks stated he “felt backed into a corner and had a ‘fight-flight-freeze’ reaction caused by trauma.”

Ultimately, district administrators determined that Hicks’ behavior on March 18, 2022, violated state and district policy. Franklin-Williams recommended termination.

“All students have the right to be treated with courtesy, respect, and dignity, be valued members of the school community and learn in a positive and safe environment,” Franklin-Williams wrote in her evaluation of the incident.

Seventh grader dealing with fallout

Cheri Allen, whose daughter recorded the March 2022 incident on a mobile device, told WFPL in May she hoped Hicks’ firing is a lesson for other educators, “that they should be more patient with children, and not to lash out.”

However, Allen said she’s upset with the overall reaction of the school. She said two other teachers confronted her seventh-grade daughter and criticized her for sharing the video and speaking to the media about it.

“She feels like she’s been shunned,” Allen said. 

Allen said her daughter has had to change her schedule to avoid certain teachers. For a while, she wanted to transfer to a new school. But, lately, she’s been thinking about sticking it out for eighth grade.

“A lot of her peers have tried to talk her into staying,” Allen said. “The kids think she’s a hero.”

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.