Gainesville’s oldest civil rights organization is publicly criticizing the city school district’s handling of an incident between a substitute teacher and two middle school students.
The Newtown Florist Club condemned the district’s “developing pattern of criminalizing educators in matters involving student discipline.”
Substitute teacher Clindon Middleton was charged earlier this month with simple battery after allegedly twisting the arms of two sixth-grade students at Gainesville Middle School.
In a letter delivered to Gainesville City School System Superintendent Jeremy Williams on Tuesday, the club’s executive director, the Rev. Rose Johnson, expressed “unwavering support” for Middleton and urged the charges against him be dropped.
“We are proud of him and all that he has accomplished in his young life,” Johnson said, calling him an example for others. “He also has our full support in light of the charges leveled against him.”
Middleton, 29, of Gainesville is no longer allowed to work at Gainesville schools following the incident.
“District and school officials conducted an investigation, communicated with families and reported the incidents to (Division of Family and Children Services) and Gainesville Police Department,” the school district said in a statement following the incident.
In the letter, Johnson said Middleton’s willingness to serve the community is what prompted him to accept a substitute teaching assignment.
Johnson said Middleton was warned that students in his third period that day could be disruptive and that punishment, such as sending students to the principal’s office, had not been effective.
“The failure of the school district to provide additional support to a substitute teacher facing these kinds of challenges left him defenseless to face whatever was to come,” Johnson said in the letter. “It also remains unclear why the school system would allow a substitute with no real authority to be placed in a position of trying to manage student behavior ...”
Johnson said criminal charges against Middleton are excessive and “serve the purpose of tarnishing the record of a young man who has no criminal history.”
Williams told The Times that he has read the letter and plans to communicate with Johnson and the club.
“We did not file charges against Mr. Middleton,” he added. “He was relieved of his duties as a substitute.”
Johnson said the club is committed to supporting the school district in its efforts to protect students from abuse and provide equal access to learning.
“However, the fact that the district has two cases in one year involving teachers criminally charged, we are expressing our concern, particularly for young educators just starting their careers,” Johnson wrote.
A Hall County grand jury indicted 25-year-old Joshua Streetman on a simple battery charge after an April incident in the hallway at Gainesville Middle that was caught on video.
The indictment accused Streetman of intentionally making “physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature” against a 12-year-old student.
“Our hope is that the Gainesville City School System does not become one that prosecutes teachers who are placed in positions of trying to manage or control students who have behavior problems and need a greater level of support,” Johnson wrote.