Houston school board reduces student’s penalty in controversial case

PERRY — The Houston County Board of Education unanimously voted Thursday to reduce the school suspension of a high school freshman whose situation drew the attention of the NAACP.

Following a tribunal appeal Thursday, Amitai Carter will be able to enroll at Crossroads Center for the remainder of the school year and allowed to re-enroll at Houston County High School in the fall, board Chairman Tom Walmer said.

He would not comment on other aspects of the case.

The board met in executive session from 1 p.m. until after 8 p.m. at its offices in Perry, with much of the time devoted to interviewing its two finalists to replace outgoing Superintendent David Carpenter.

The finalists are Perry High School principal Darryl Albritton and Assistant Superintendent for School Operations Robin Hines.

The interviews with each candidate were allowed to last up to two hours, board member Fred Wilson said.

The early part of Thursday’s meeting in executive session dealt with Carter, whose cause was taken up by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other organizations.

Carter, 15, who is a black special-education student, was among a group of students watching a fight at Houston County High School in February, which he recorded on his cell phone, said Richard Boykin, the attorney working with Carter.

During the fight, Todd Pryby, a white assistant principal, came up behind Carter, put him in a chokehold and dragged him to the wall, to which Carter responded, “Get your hands off me, or I’ll f-----g sue,” Boykin said.

As a result, Carter received two semesters of alternative school. School officials disputed the details of the incident, and as a result previously upheld the original punishment.

Under the circumstances, his mother and the Georgia State Conference NAACP felt the school’s punishment was excessive.

During the appeal, Boykin said he brought attention to parts of the assistant principal’s testimony that he felt were inconsistent.

Pryby filed an incident report with the Warner Robins Police Department on Feb. 18, nine days after the fight.

According to the report, Pryby saw Carter’s “arms raised in the vicinity of the fight” and believed he was directly involved in it. He then “grabbed the male student ... and began moving him away from the fight area.” During the struggle, Carter said, “I’ll f--k you up,” according to Pryby’s statement.

Two students then intervened, and afterward, Carter ran toward the buses. The same police report says Jody Dean, a teacher at the school, saw another student restraining Carter.

After Pryby approached him to ask for the student’s name, Carter told Pryby, “Don’t touch me. If you do, I’ll f-----g sue you.”

“Mr. Pryby requested this report due to a board of education discipline hearing. At this point, no charges are being requested,” the report says.

Houston County principal Sherri Freeman also attended Thursday’s appeal, and said Carter’s statement of profanity was disrespectful and warranted suspension, Boykin said. Pryby was not present, Boykin said.

Boykin said he doesn’t believe Pryby meant to attack Carter, but the “situation spiraled out of control.”

JoAn Davis, secretary for the Houston County branch of the NAACP, said she was pleased with the board’s decision to reduce Carter’s suspension.

“Every child is entitled to an education,” Davis said.

“We want to make sure each case is looked at on an individual basis ... and not placed on the school-to-prison path,” said Fenika Miller, chairwoman for the Houston County Democratic Committee.

“Many things are stacked against African-American students. We don’t want to excuse behavior, but the need to be consistent across the board and fair,” Miller said.

Meanwhile, Boykin said the board’s decision is an improvement but incompletely addresses the situation.

“We remain concerned. While we’re pleased they’ve allowed him to come back next year, he shouldn’t have been expelled at all,” he said. “They missed the mark. We don’t consider it a victory. We’ll continue to fight.”

To contact Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.