By Curt Yeomans
The attorney for Jonesboro High School Assistant Principal Sandra Lewis Nicholson is arguing the school system wants to suspend his client for five days because of negative media attention focused on the school's former dance team.
The dance team was disbanded last month after several parents complained about the dancers' suggestive routine during a half-time performance at Jonesboro's Jan. 13 boys basketball game against Mt. Zion High School.
Video of the dance routine made its way on to several web sites, including YouTube.com, and MySpace.com. It also garnered attention in local media, and on national talk show programs, including Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor."
The school system has scheduled a March 6 employee tribunal hearing for Nicholson to hear the appeal of her suspension, said Keith Martin, Nicholson's attorney. The hearing will begin at 9:30 a.m., at the school system's central administration complex, 1058 Fifth Ave., Jonesboro.
"I believe we'll be prepared to show it's because of the publicity rather than the complaints," Martin said.
Nicholson was one of two Jonesboro assistant principals who witnessed part, or all, the dance team's performance during the basketball game, Martin said. She also viewed a small portion of the routine before the game, minus the racy costumes and a portion involving young males, according to Martin.
When the school system began to investigate the performance, Nicholson directed district officials to Mount Zion High School, where officials allegedly had a tape of the performance, Martin said.
The dance team's routine provoked a stern response from the school system after it was exposed in the media. The team's faculty sponsor has also been suspended because of the routine, and all dance and cheerleading teams are to receive dance training from a professional dance teacher before they perform. The school system also requires all performances to be previewed by administrators before they are performed.
Martin said his client only saw the latter half of the six-minute dance routine during the game, and the district allegedly moved to suspend her after parents and media members began to question why someone did not stop the routine.
Martin says school system officials informed Nicholson on Jan. 28, more than two weeks after the performance, of their plan to suspend her for not stopping the performance. Initially, the school system offered her a three-day suspension if she would admit to being in the wrong, Martin said.
"They said 'Sign it, and you'll be suspended for three days, and there will not be a tribunal, but if you don't sign it, there will be a tribunal and it will be open to the public and media to attend,'" Martin said.
She refused to sign. An additional two days were added to her suspension, Martin said. She has not yet served the suspension because it has been put on hold while she appeals her punishment to the tribunal, Martin said.
The school system does not announce the dates of tribunal hearings for employees or students to the local media.
Nicholson, a native of Miami and a graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C., has been an educator for 19 years. She has been working in Clayton County Schools since 2003, but she has only been an assistant principal at Jonesboro since 2007, Martin said. Prior to her assignment at that school, she was an assistant principal at Forest Park High School.
Nicholson briefly served as Forest Park High's interim principal in late 2006, and early 2007, after former Principal Delphia Young was removed from her post following controversial comments she allegedly made during a meeting with Hispanic students.
Martin said Nicholson refused to accept the suspension because she wanted to protect her reputation as an educator.
"Her job is education, and she wants to keep that record unblemished," Martin said.
District spokesman Charles White said he could not comment on the appeal because it is a personnel matter.