Praying high school algebra teacher re-hired

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 27, 2010

NATCHEZ — Franklin County High School teacher Alice Hawley said she was fired for praying in the classroom then re-hired — all during a 24-hour period.

Hawley, an algebra teacher, said she received a non-renewal letter signed by Franklin County School District Superintendent Grady L. Fleming Tuesday. Hawley said the non-renewal was due to leading students in prayer during class and not stopping the class prayer once the administration requested it.

After noon Wednesday, however, Hawley was reinstated.

“They called me at lunch to come down to the central office with my principal,” she said. “(Fleming) more or less told us, since they didn’t have any documentation, they would reinstate me.”

At the meeting, Hawley said Fleming asked her to read the law about prayer in school and sign it.

“I did not sign it,” Hawley said. “If I have a child requesting prayer, I will pray for them.”

When she comes back in the fall, Hawley said she will continue to pray for students. At the beginning of the school year, she asks students if they are uncomfortable with prayer in the classroom.

“If anyone does not want to pray, I ask them to tell me,” Hawley said. “If they don’t want to voice their opinion, they can write me a note, and we will not have prayer in that class.

“If they go home, and their parents do not want them to pray in class, then we do not have it.”

But in the 17 years that she has been teaching, Hawley said she has yet to have a student or a parent not want prayer in the classroom.

Franklin County student Shadiamond Hunt, 16, said she was in Hawley’s class this year and she appreciated the prayer.

“I feel like her praying has gotten me through a lot of things, like state tests,” Hunt said. “I think she should pray.”

Hunt said she feels like the school should have asked the students for their opinions before they fired Hawley.

“Praying has helped our class a lot, and it has helped her get through the day with some students who can be disrespectful,” Hunt said. “I don’t see why she should not pray. It helps lots of students get through the day.”

Hawley is the best teacher at FCHS, graduate Detrick

Winding said.

“She cared about us, and she showed it,” Winding said. “She wasn’t there for a paycheck. She was there to help us learn, and she did.”

Hawley said she appreciates the support from her students.

“They prayed for me when my son had a stroke, and I pray for them,” Hawley said.

Fleming could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Mississippi Department of Education Director of Communication Pete Smith said the issue boils down to the local policies.

“We don’t hire and fire,” Smith said. “The districts have home rule, meaning that the school board members and superintendents make their own policy, and their own rules and regulations.”