Ferguson resigns from SPM classroom

Published 9:52 am Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Elizabeth Ferguson officially resigned on Monday from her position at S.P. Morton Elementary School, and it was immediately accepted by Superintendent Willie Bell, said Kelvin Edwards Sr., who is Franklin City Public School’s director of organizational accountability performance management.

On Sept. 26, Ferguson, a Franklin first-grade teacher, was arrested by Suffolk police on two warrants that dated back to December 2013 for distribution of heroin. On Sept. 29, she was given the job, Edwards said.

Ferguson was hired pending a background check, and she was allowed to work until the results returned, Edwards said. A teacher had been hired at the beginning of the year to take the place of a long-term substitute teacher in the position that Ferguson would occupy. But the teacher hired at the beginning of the year had quit, and Ferguson was brought in until the background check came back on Dec. 5. At that point, Edwards said, the superintendent put her on leave.

It was previously reported that the superintendent let the employee go, but Edwards said only the school board has the authority to hire and dismiss an employee, so Bell must have misspoke.

Edwards said this is standard, and that FCPS’s policy comes from the policy recommended in 2012 by former Virginia Department of Education Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright.

VDOE can withhold an employee from entering the classroom, said Communications Manager Julie Grimes. However, as part of the Memorandum of Understanding, VDOE is mainly checking to make sure the teacher’s license is up to date, she said. This stems back to the division- and building-level reviews, which found systemic problems in human relations practices that resulted in many teachers operating without licenses in the subject matter they were teaching.

As far as Ferguson, Grimes said her license was valid since 2010. She said background checks and how to implement them are on the local school divisions.

Grimes also said the state has not yet received a formal notice from the Franklin school system in reference to this incident.

As for background checks, Grimes said it can take six to eight weeks for one to return once the employee submits the fingerprints. It would have been 10 weeks on Dec. 5, which is when Bell previously said that the background check came back.

Edwards said Ferguson would not have lied on the application, as it asks if a person has been convicted of crimes that could bar a person from working with children, such as felonies. Ferguson will not be arraigned until Jan. 7.

The school system will send a letter to parents today in regard to this incident.

On Friday, the information that The Tidewater News requested of Bell in regard to when Ferguson started was denied. H. Taylor Williams, school board attorney, said that as soon as the school board approves a contract in closed session, that the entire contract becomes public record that should be provided if requested.