This past October, some students at North Carolina’s Asheville High School warned their teacher on two separate occasions they’d seen a student with a gun on school property. On both occasions that teacher, Lauren Jones, alerted school officials to what she’d been told. Thankfully nobody got hurt, although there was an incident: Jones was demoted.
On Oct. 22 Jones’s boss called her into a meeting and told her she would be transferred to Asheville Middle School where she would teach a math class to special needs students. Jones has a master’s degree in Special Educational Behavioral and Emotional Disabilities, and at Asheville High she worked with a caseload of 17 at-risk students, helping them with their social and learning problems.
“It totally blindsided me,” Jones said about the transfer. “I feel like it’s a demotion, because I’m a trained behavior specialist. I feel like I was punished for reporting a safety issue.”
On Friday, Oct. 9 Asheville High School was put on lockdown after Jones reported to officials that some students told her they’d seen a student with a gun. “They were really worried he was going to do something,” Jones says. The two resource officers at Asheville High searched the student and the building, but when they didn’t find a weapon, the school day continued as usual.
A few days later on the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 14 another group of students told Jones they had seen that same student in the school parking lot with a gun. Those kids also showed Jones the Facebook page of a different student who seemed to be bragging in a public online post about friends bringing guns to school. Jones took a screenshot of the Facebook post with her phone, and she sent it to the school’s resource officers. She also showed the screenshot to head principal, Joyce Best.
Eight days later, and with no warning, Jones learned she would be transferred. Her boss, Laurie McDaniel, director of exceptional children services at Asheville, told her she was being transferred for her own safety. However, Jones says McDaniel never explained who or what she was in danger from.
Asked what or who posed a threat to Jones, Asheville City Schools’ Executive Director of Community Relations Charlie Glazener said he did not know. Glazener also could not say whether Jones was still in danger in her new position.
Jones says she asked multiple times for the transfer to be reconsidered, saying she had no desire to leave the high school. On Oct. 30, Jones met with Laura Davis, executive director of human resources and high schools, who told her the school district was “legally required” to transfer her to another school. Davis never explained why the transfer was legally required, Jones says.
Glazener said he did not know what law required the district to move Jones. Vanessa Jeter, director of communications for North Carolina’s State Board of Education said she also was not aware of a law that would require a transfer.
At Asheville High School, many students live below the poverty line. There is a housing project nearby called Hillcrest where many students live, and where crime rates are high. Jones says the mentality of a lot of students is to never snitch. So when those students approached Jones to tell her about kids bringing guns to school, she took it as a sign she’d been able to instill in them, at least a little, some trust in an authority figure.
“These kids don’t normally report things like this,” said Jones. “Then they see me report it and they see me lose my job, so what does that say to them? And what does it say to my fellow teachers that I get moved out of my job for speaking out?”
At the Asheville City Schools board of education meeting on Nov. 2, a number of parents addressed the board, praising Jones and the effect she had on their children, and asking the board to bring back Jones to Asheville High. Jones has since submitted a formal appeal of the transfer. She has not received a decision yet.