Beginning this week, Houston ISD placed a decorated school administrator on leave for allegedly threatening a student with a bat, as well as fighting a relaxed dress code post-Harvey.
Dr. Bertie Simmons, 83, denies the allegations.
And, now, her supporters are coming to her defense, claiming HISD is acting out of retaliation against Simmons’ leadership for Furr High School, which recently clashed with district plans.
In the incident, Simmons refused to allow a $10 million grant she won for Furr to be distributed across the district.
She ultimately led a year-long campaign to attain the funds, initially won via The Super School Project contest, sponsored by Lauren Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
When Simmons learned of the district’s plans to split up their award, she notified The Super School Project, which informed the district they would only receive the funds if all of the money went to Furr.
Additionally, Simmons requested she be able to implement uniforms on the campus to help combat gang activity, something she said she sees as on the rise at the high school.
With teens able to wear gang colors under the current district dress code, the veteran educator said she believes the lack of uniforms is creating a dangerous environment.
Her request was denied.
Simmons said she previously dealt with gang activity in her early years at Furr, before the former Principal of the Year turned the campus into an award-winning school.
On her first day, she recalled, a student threw another through a window.
Three years later, she said she returned from a meeting to find two rival gangs rioting on the campus; she was able to negotiate peace between the two groups, later rewarding them with a trip to New York City.
In addition to the administrative disputes, supporters agree the crux of the school’s complaint centers on how she allegedly threatened a student with a bat.
Her friend Karen Taylor told the Houston Press the bat statement came from a joke commonly used by Simmons when students or teachers joke with her.
Taylor explained in an interview:
“It’s always been a joke since she’s been at Furr that when she walks up to a student and someone says something to her that’s joking, she says, ‘Oh, don’t make me get my bat.’”
Faculty and teachers support the principal, but some claim district administration told them not to take action.
As for Simmons, she said she doesn’t know why HISD is taking action against her:
“All I can say is I love these students, and clearly the district doesn’t love me, ” she said in a statement. “I’ve just been in shock because last Friday when they ushered me off campus and gave me that letter, I was just shocked.”
This is a developing story.