I want to compliment the Daily Press for its reporting on the recent school board hearing regarding Sup-erintendent Lisa Presley’s recommendation that Justin Frazier be dismissed as a teacher from Tahlequah Public Schools. Along with my daughter, who is a band student, I attended the entirety of this hearing, and the Press account is accurate and objective.
Although I disagree with the school board’s decision to dismiss Mr. Frazier, I understand the reasoning behind the decision to support the recommendation. Seen from their perspective, it’s clearly in the best interests of the TPS system. It resolves a whole host of issues for TPS. Such a decision, however, is not in the interest of truth or justice. It is also not in the interest of creating the sort of understanding, humane society I feel a strong majority of our citizens would like to create.
Like others whose children have had the good fortune of having Mr. Frazier as a music teacher, I was shocked to see the headline story Feb. 3 that he had been arrested for possession of a controlled substance and the superintendent was recommending he be dismissed. Mr. Frazier is not just a teacher who has always been highly regarded by the administration that has now decided to dismiss him; he is a beloved teacher with a gift for relating to children and young adults. He knows how to inspire kids and make learning meaningful. Like Mr. Allen, the other director, he works 70-80 hours a week, giving his heart and soul to building a program and inspiring students.
Because of the article about his arrest, I went to the hearing expecting to hear about a drug problem and how Mr. Frazier was not fit to be a teacher. I was prepared to see him dismissed and to be supportive, sadly, of that decision. But the extensive hearing was primarily about phone calls he made, about how he always wanted to get into the band room, about how he might have taken money. The prosecution tried to make all his actions seem devious and unusual. None of these phone calls and attempts to get in the band room seemed unusual to me. People may not understand, but some band directors practically live out of the band room; they devote countless hours to their job and do a huge chunk of their work in the band room. One time, as was brought up at the hearing, Mr. Frazier even called a janitor to let him into the band room, and the janitor was brought in to testify. That in of itself is not strange behavior at all. I, myself, have been let into the band room on at least two occasions by a janitor to pick up my daughter’s instrument.
I was surprised that during more than six hours of testimony, there was almost no discussion of the arrest that became a headline story and embarrassed the school and Mr. Frazier. I learned the reason at the hearing: Mr. Frazier had done nothing wrong. He had prescription drugs with him (the controlled substance), but did not have the prescription from the doctor in the car. Once he furnished that, the story was over; no charges were made. I guess that was the reason for focusing on so many other things related to his possibly taking money. Yet, there was no evidence he ever took any money, just a lot of smoke and mirrors. In the end, the accusations had nothing to do with taking the money, since that could not be proved, and they had nothing to do with the arrest, since he was not guilty of anything. The charges were things like “moral turpitude” or neglect of teaching duties. I cannot remember the exact language, but I remember the charge of “moral turpitude,” defined as “conduct that is contrary to community standards of justice, honesty and good morals.” Instead of relying on concrete evidence that Mr. Frazier had committed wrongdoing, the hearing circled around speculation.
Though he was not charged with driving under the influence, I do not doubt he may have been a little woozy from the Xanax the doctor had prescribed. The dosage had just been increased by his doctor, and Xanax is a prescription drug whose impact is not always easy to predict. This, it seemed, was the main reason for his bad week in school. He was not himself because he had taken the stronger prescription. Once he realized the problems his new dose was causing, he quit taking Xanax, cold turkey. He is now back to normal and his physician has cleared him for work without restrictions.
I am confident if other band members or band parents had sat through the hearing, many would conclude it all seemed an attempt to pin the missing money on Mr. Frazier because it solved a problem TPS had. How helpful to have a convenient scapegoat.
From where I sit, justice means when someone has been a valued employee over a long period of time, and he suddenly (for one week) does not function well because of an increase in a prescription of a widely used but dangerous drug like Xanax, you cut him a little slack. You might put him on a program of improvement or admonishment. You make sure he functions well in the future as he always has, and if he cannot perform his duties, you give him a warning before you fire him. That is a widely-agreed-on community standard of justice. If Mr. Frazier had committed a crime, fire him. If he is guilty of stealing money, fire him. But for some vague charges with no teeth in them? For a solution to a problem like missing money? So who is guilty of moral turpitude? Can we be sure it is really Mr. Frazier? It is quite possible a great wrong has been done here to an individual. If so, that fits my definition of moral turpitude: “Conduct contrary to thecommunity standards of justice, honesty and good morals.”
My daughter, Anne, who helped me write the above letter, would like to add these final words: “Mr. Frazier was dearly loved by his students. He poured his heart into working for us, and everyone in the band had a deep respect for him. All he did was give: his time, his energy, his love and his passion. At the end of the day, and the beginning, and in between, he was a fantastic director, and I think I speak for the band when I say he will be sorely missed. There is so much we could not have accomplished without him, and the program will never be the same. I know there has been a great deal of damage done, and though I would absolutely love beyond almost anything for him to still be with us, my greatest wish is that he; his wife, Tina; and their beautiful baby, Lukas, are able to bounce back and find a happy future. They deserve it. Good luck, Mr. Frazier; we love you.”
David Linebarger is a professor of humanities at NSU. His daughter, Anne, is a trumpet player in the Tahlequah High School Orange Express.