Richmond County’s deputy school superintendent said Wednesday the woman who organized a trip to President Obama’s inauguration with Butler High School students should not have been allowed to promote the trip on campus or collect trip dues through the school’s bookkeeper.
Tim Spivey said he knew about the trip when Erica Jones, of the DRBJ Legacy Foundation, approached the school in January but said he cautioned Principal Greg Thompson to handle it as an off-campus, nonschool-sanctioned function.
The trip turned into a school function, however, when Jones spoke at an assembly Jan. 17 and recruited the bookkeeper to help her collect fees. Because it wasn’t originally a school-related function, the county Board of Education did not have to approve the trip and a background check was not completed on Jones.
Now, students and parents are demanding answers after few of the promises made by Jones turned out to be true. She promised that students who paid $135 for a seat on the charter bus would have premier seating at the inauguration and that they would be placed in a lottery to meet the president. She also attended an assembly Jan. 17 and held a phone conversation she said was with Obama, relaying messages to students and stating that a group photo taken that day would hang in his library, according to students and a teacher who attended.
On the ride back to Augusta, students said, Jones told them they did not get a ticket for premier seating or meet the president because they had misbehaved. The group of about 30 students ended up standing in the back section of the massive crowd, unable to hear the audio or even see the event on the jumbo screens.
Spivey would not comment on any disciplinary action on Thompson because it is a personnel matter. Thompson did not return a request for comment Wednesday.
School board Vice President Helen Minchew said she wants all principals to be reminded of the district’s policy regarding school trips so nothing similar happens again.
If a school becomes involved in organizing a trip or event, it must be approved by the board, she said. The Butler trip was never approved because it was at first advertised as a nonschool-related function.
Board member Alex Howard said he was shocked to hear about the students’ ordeal, especially given that the school district would have been liable if someone had gotten hurt.
“I’m tired of this happening and people getting away with it,” Howard said. “It’s a good thing no doubt, taking students to see Obama, but that was the wrong way to do it.”
Spivey said the principal had good intentions but that things got out of hand when Jones was allowed to promote the event on campus.
“(Thompson) was trying to do something good for his kids that he thought was going to be a great thing, but it didn’t turn out to be a great thing,” he said.