Changing times

When Dr. Timothy Chargois was named the new superintendent of the Beaumont Independent School District, there was a sigh of relief heard both inside and outside the district.

Chargois is a bright, relatively young school administrator whose career is on the rise – and recent events suggest he will need smarts and moxie alike to get the job done. Over the past two weeks he was called into a particularly sticky situation that arose at Austin Middle School, located less than a mile from the BISD administration complex.The case centered on two 11-year-old girls who say they were the victims of a sexual assault that occurred not only at school but in a classroom – during class. The two boys were quickly suspended then ticketed for the Pathways alternative school campus for the remainder of the school year. It was a serious incident that raised troubling questions, including how such an assault could take place in a classroom with the teacher present.

In reporting the attack, the first girl said she screamed then loudly said “No!” when the attack began, but there was no response because the teacher was asleep. A BISD spokesman says the teacher denied the report and that none of the other students in the classroom at the time corroborated the girl’s contention the teacher was sleeping – which raises the obvious question of why she didn’t intervene.

The teacher in question is Rebecca Williams, a veteran educator with 35 years of classroom experience who has been employed by BISD since 2000. By all accounts she has had serious health problems in recent years. Some of her fellow employees at the school have sympathy for Williams’ physical condition but expressed concern for the students in her class.

“Mrs. Williams has trouble standing up and holds the wall when she walks down the hall,” said one. “Some parents complain because students know they can act crazy in her room – she has lost control of her classroom.”

Chargois personally offered sympathy to the parents of those students and promised to work for a solution. Two complicating factors were that  the age of the students involved mandated confidentiality in the legal proceedings – and if the teacher was in fact sleeping or otherwise incapacitated and the district knew about the situation, it could be considered gross negligence and make the district liable for civil damages.

Nobody said this job was going to be easy. Chargois faces an immediate trial by fire in this case, having to balance the interests of the district, the students and this teacher. Williams should be commended for her service to the district and allowed to retire immediately. The actions of the school principal who allowed this situation to persist knowing of her incapacity should be closely examined. And we should all wish Dr. Timothy Chargois well running the school district that belongs to us all.