Accusations that Beaumont Independent School District Taylor Career and Technology Center Principal Thomas Amons nixed the campus’ Adult Cosmetology program rather than allow admission to a student he thought was gay were answered by school district administrators this week. After the Sept. 13 Examiner story “Sexuality the deciding factor in program’s closure” garnered national attention from numerous outlets such as the Huffington Post and MSN news, BISD blamed monetary concerns for the program ending. Still, the community is demanding proof the program was actually cut due to “budget constraints” as the district claims.
Although run as a viable program for more than a decade, the Adult Cosmetology class offered through BISD’s Taylor Career and Technology Center ended Sept. 13, according to class instructor Cequana Clark, because Principal Thomas Amons would rather close the program than allow admission to a man he thought was gay after a brief encounter with the prospective student on the first day of class Sept. 10.
According to Clark, who has headed the adult cosmetology program since 2009 at BISD, Amons told her that he never wanted to see “flamboyantly gay guys” in the BISD program like the men enrolled at similar area programs. Clark said she knew Amons was serious when 22-year-old Kwmane Gray tried to enroll in the program.
“As soon as we got a student that (Amons) thought was gay, that was the end,” she said.
Clark said Principal Amons, a man who also serves as a deacon at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, was adamant that Gray would not be allowed to enroll and instructed her to tell Gray he wasn’t welcome in the program. After bringing another instructor in on the conversation, Amons said he would consult BISD’s legal representation on how to proceed, Clark said.
“The next day (Sept. 11), (Amons) told me that the legal department said he couldn’t exclude (Gray) based on his sexual preference, but that as the principal of the school he could decide to no longer offer the program. He said the last day would be Thursday, Sept. 13.”
The closing of the program not only affected new enrollees like Gray, Clark added, because four students were already enrolled in the program when classes were set to resume Sept. 10. Clark said enrollment has steadily increased in the program since she started in 2009, jumping from two students to eight when the call came down to close the program. Clark, who aside from her BISD job holds positions as a pastor of a Groves church and owner of a salon in Beaumont, said the majority of the students attending the adult program were single mothers.
“At the very least, I’d like to see Mr. Amons apologize to that young man and to allow those already entered in the program to finish their instruction to get licensed,” Clark said, adding the right thing to do would be to continue the program and allow Gray to enter.“This is like a hate crime,” prospective student Gray told The Examiner. Gray had never openly addressed the matter of his sexual orientation before Amons allegedly targeted the former Lamar University honor student, but he has since been thrust into the limelight after he learned from the BISD instructor that the entire program was closed due to Gray’s interest in taking classes at the campus. “He never even talked to me,” Gray said. “He just judged me.”
Attempts to reach Amons at his office were unsuccessful. Multiple messages left with various BISD officials – communication representatives Jessie Haynes and Ron Reynolds, assistant superintendent Patria Lambert, and BISD legal counsel Melody Chappell – all went unreturned.
But in the days following publication of our first story, BISD released two different statements to various news organizations relating to the incident.
And that’s not all. After the The Examiner published the original story Thursday, Sept. 13, Clark was asked to turn in her keys and receipt book, ending her employment with BISD. “We’ve decided to let you go,” she says Principal Amons told her. “We don’t need your services anymore.”
BISD officials released a statement to some local news outlets Sept. 13 defending Amons’ decision: “Due to budget restraints and no Beaumont ISD cosmetology graduates registering for the class, the Taylor Career center is no longer offering an extended courtesy evening cosmetology class for adults. Amons stressed that the high school cosmetology program at Taylor still exists. But he said the school can no longer afford to fund the part of the program serving non-BISD cosmetology program graduates.”
Contrary to BISD’s statement, however, the program instructor has documentation proving that at least one BISD Taylor Career Center graduate was continuing toward her license this semester in the adult program, and multiple students logged in for the evening classes as well.
Additionally, BISD’s operating budget, approved Aug. 16, shows no change in the budget allotment for adult programs or adult night class instruction offered through the district for the 2012-13 school year, and only roughly a $1,000 reduction in the budget for the Taylor Career campus as a whole. The district-wide annual budget shows operating expenses for the program should have been covered through fiscal year 2013. BISD spokesman Ron Reynolds said the budget issues would be evident from documentation held at the Taylor Career Center, but those documents were as of yet unavailable for public review.
E-mail exchanges between instructor Clark and principal Amons from Aug. 24 show the school employees were in agreement on starting the first day of the adult class Sept. 10, more than a week after district administration approved this school year’s budget.A day after releasing the first statement, BISD released a second version of its side of the story. In the new correspondence, officials announced the opening of a new adult cosmetology class to commence next month. The new program will double the tuition, but other details of the new program are vague.
Quest for information
Outraged observers from all over the world have joined a group that sprung up on Facebook demanding an investigation into Clark’s allegations. The group, with more than 700 members, staged a protest at the BISD administration building Sept. 15, with dozens showing up to offer support for their efforts in forcing an investigation. Founding member Mo Boggan said none of the statements issued from BISD have swayed her position in her quest for the truth.
“In addition to (the original complaint), we now have other stories of this principal doing this sort of thing to other students,” Boggan said. According to her, if the program was shut due to “budget issues,” the information would be readily available. “I think it’s a cop out,” she said.
Further support for Boggan’s group came in the form of a change.org petition signed by roughly 1,300 people from around the world calling for Amons’ removal should the district be unable to prove budgetary concerns led to the program’s cancellation.
BISD elected trustee Mike Neil said he has been investigating the allegations since he was made aware of the issue Sept. 13.
“I am very frustrated about what is happening,” he said. “I have been asking questions in the background and am not satisfied with the answers I am getting. Our Communications Department’s incompetence has allowed this situation to become a national embarrassment.”
Neil requested an agenda item be added to the BISD meeting scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 20, allowing for the board of trustees to talk about the allegations in an open forum as a group. The meeting will be held at the BISD Administration Building, 3395 Harrison, starting at 7:15 p.m.
Board trustee Tom Neild said he, too, is looking into the allegations and takes the complaint very seriously.
“Everybody that I’ve talked to is just flabbergasted about this,” he said. “There are so many questions about this issue and they really need to be addressed. If this was a budget situation, why wasn’t our board told about it?
“I think it is a slap in the face to the public to say this program was cut because of budget issues.”
Neild said he, too, has requested documentation to prove the program was cut due to budget woes, but according to him, those documents have not been provided. He added that the matter is a public issue, and the public deserves to see proof of BISD’s statements.
“Just because BISD says it, doesn’t mean people believe it,” he said.
BISD Superintendent Dr. Timothy Chargois said it was “misinformation” that the program was closed to prevent a student from attending the adult cosmetology class because of a student’s sexual preference. Gray, who was prevented from enrolling in the program although he pre-purchased materials for the course, said he would not be attending BISD’s newly announced adult cosmetology class, which will still be offered at Amons’ campus.
“(BISD) still has a problem,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t enroll in any program until Amons was relieved of his post and Clark was reinstated to her position in the district. He said, “They still have a heartless monster as the head of students.”