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Teacher apologetic but says student ‘crossed the line’

Photo by Johnny Jackson 
Felisa Turnipseed appeared during a Clayton County Public Schools employee hearing Tuesday, fighting to retain her job as a teacher at Riverdale Middle School.

Photo by Johnny Jackson Felisa Turnipseed appeared during a Clayton County Public Schools employee hearing Tuesday, fighting to retain her job as a teacher at Riverdale Middle School.

JONESBORO — An apologetic teacher said she wants to keep her job though she slapped a student twice across the face.

Felisa Turnipseed was the subject of an employment hearing Tuesday in which she faced termination as recommended by Superintendent Luvenia Jackson.

Attorney Winston Denmark led the case on half of Clayton County Public Schools. Stephanie Banks presided over the hearing.

Turnipseed began by making her case in front of a tribunal panel why she should stay on as a teacher at Riverdale Middle School.

“I feel like the recommendation for termination is a bit harsh,” she said.

Turnipseed is a connections math teacher at Riverdale. She has a T-5 certification, which means she holds master’s degree. She joined the school faculty Jan. 7 and has been on administrative leave since May 3. The incident occurred May 2.

“I did commit the act,” she said. “I realize that I made a mistake.”

She said she slapped an eighth-grader when he called her a liar in her classroom. She said there were about a dozen students in her class at the time.

Turnipseed said the student asked why she slapped him. She said she responded, “If you call me a liar again, I will slap you again.” He did and she slapped him.

Principal Dr. Adrian Courtland testified in the hearing that he interviewed the 13-year-old student.

“I learned that this student, along with maybe two others, were in a discussion with Ms. Turnipseed,” he said. “He admitted to getting in her face and she slapped him. He asked her why did she slap him and she slapped him a second time.”

Courtland said there was a line of tape at Turnipseed’s desk and it said “Do not cross.” He said the student admitted to crossing the line. Turnipseed, he added, also admitted to her role in the incident.

“She said, ‘Yeah, I slapped him. He got in my face so I slapped him,’” he testified.

Courtland said the student immediately went to the back of the classroom and called his parents. When he could not reach them, he called his sister.

The parents were at the school within a couple of hours and met with Courtland. He said their meeting was the first time he had learned of the incident as Turnipseed did not report it.

“When there is a major incident like this, you must let the administration know,” he said. “There was no definitive answer as to why she did not notify school administration.”

Courtland said the parents requested to meet with the teacher to get her side of the story.

“She (Turnipseed) began to apologize profusely for slapping the child,” Courtland said.

Turnipseed told the parents her account of what happened leading up to the incident.

“The parents looked at their son and said, ‘Did this happen?’ And he said ‘yes,’” he said. “The student apologized.”

Courtland said the parents appeared understanding.

“They asked me not to report it,” he said.

He said he told them that it was protocol to report the incident to his superiors as well as the Department of Family and Children Services.

Turnipseed said she regrets her actions.

“If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would not have done it,” she said. “The student came across my desk. It was just a statement to him. I didn’t think past that. Consequently, I am truly sorry. I have sincerely learned from this mishap.”

Turnipseed told the tribunal panel that, while on administrative leave, she has pursued classroom management training to help her better deal with situations that arise in the classroom.

“I feel like my classroom management skills are something that led to this situation,” said Turnipseed. “At the time I was not thinking, I was just reacting.”

Tribunal deliberations continued through Tuesday morning.