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Fort Smith teacher spared from termination at hearing

by Thomas Saccente | May 15, 2021 at 7:34 a.m.
The Fort Smith School District administration building Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

FORT SMITH -- A teacher will be able to keep her job -- with certain caveats -- following allegations an underage student drank alcohol at her home.

The School Board voted 4-1 to continue the contract of Carie Harris, a seventh-grade English teacher and drill team instructor at Ramsey Junior High School, at the end of a nearly six-hour personnel hearing Wednesday.

Talicia Richardson was the lone member who voted against the motion.

Marshall Ney, an attorney for the School District, said Superintendent Terry Morawski informed Harris of his recommendation she be terminated to the board via a letter March 18. The reasons stemmed from an alleged incident on March 13 in which Harris allowed people below the legal drinking age, including a School District student, to consume alcohol in her home during an engagement party.

The student, a 17-year-old girl, went outside Harris' home after consuming multiple alcoholic beverages to smoke marijuana with a friend, according to an interview with the student by Sherri Penix, the district's assistant superintendent of human resources and campus support. The girl later had a reaction that caused her friend to take her to an emergency room, where she stayed for four hours.

Harris told Penix she didn't know if the student drank alcohol. In addition, no one told her the student left her house, and she didn't hear about her going to the emergency room until the following morning.

The stipulations accompanying the board's motion included Harris needing to complete 20 hours of unpaid professional development above the district's requirement within the next three months; prohibiting her participation in extracurricular activities up to and including sponsor and co-sponsor responsibilities; prohibiting her attendance at on- and off-campus activities; prohibiting her attendance at district-sanctioned events and activities involving students for the rest of her employment with the district; and suspending said employment for three months without pay effective immediately.

Nathan Mendenhall, a Fort Smith lawyer who represents Harris, said Friday while he and Harris are satisfied she can keep her job, they are disappointed she will not be permitted to be a drill team instructor at Ramsey.

Mendenhall also noted regarding the bans on Harris participating in extracurricular activities and going to student activities none of the allegations had to do with such things.

"And we feel like if she's allowed to be in the classroom and teach students, she should also be allowed to instruct a drill team," Mendenhall said.

Mendenhall said Harris has worked as a teacher in Arkansas for 22 years. She has worked for the Fort Smith School District for nine years, and has been in her current position at Ramsey for five years.

Harris hasn't been charged with any criminal misconduct, according to Mendenhall. Her contract with the School District expires June 30 and hasn't yet been renewed for next school year, Mendenhall said.

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