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SMITHFIELD — While a former Wake County substitute teacher who lives in Smithfield blames false allegations and biased international media coverage for tarnishing her reputation, Wake County Public Schools says it supports students’ response to her controversial alleged comments.
Elizabeth Temple, 48, denied making racial and political statements Feb. 8 to students at Rand Road Elementary School in Garner. She also denied criticizing one African-American student’s attire.
“I completely deny the allegations and accusations made by a parent and put into the media without any comment from Wake County Schools or me,” Temple wrote in a recent letter to the Wake County Public School System’s senior director of employee relations.
SCHOOL BOARD LAUDS STUDENTS
But at the Feb. 19 Wake County Board of Education meeting, school board Chairman Jim Martin applauded Rand Road students and staff’s handling of the alleged incident.
“I want to publicly acknowledge the students and staff at Rand Road Elementary School,” said Martin. “As people have seen in the news, there were some pretty intense racial incidents that happened at that school and the students were empowered to stand up appropriately.
“The staff acted appropriately and immediately and I think handled a situation that should never have happened incredibly well and I just want to publicly acknowledge from the board that we are very proud of students and staff at Rand Road for that kind of work and I want to thank you,” said Martin.
School board member Monika Johnson-Hostler, whose district includes Rand Road, also praised the school’s response.
“The swift action at Rand Road is what I know all of our administrators strive to do and I think it’s important for them to know they have the support of the board,” said Johnson-Hostler.
‘WE ARE ALL ONE RACE’
But Temple gives a different account of what happened.
“When asked by an African-American student and his male friend who were standing instead of sitting, as the rest of the class did, then they said to us ‘Why are you looking, is it because we’re black?,’” said Temple “I said no and immediately sent a student for the teacher. While waiting to say something nice, I quoted Alveda King and said Alveda King says we are all one race, the human race and in State of the Union address, President Trump’s message was unity and we are all one.”
Alveda King is a civil rights leader and former Georgia state representative who is Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece.
According to news reports carried by national and international media outlets, Temple was alleged to have said Martin Luther King Jr. committed suicide, that people who don’t support Trump aren’t Christians and also allegedly described an African-American student’s clothing as prison attire.
Temple refutes those allegations.
“I would never say anything ‘racial’ or inappropriate,” she said.
Temple said the teacher arrived quickly, within 10 minutes.
“The eight students were yelling, arguing, talking, but I never brought up race myself. I simply answered his question,” said Temple. “Interestingly, I never corrected their behavior, never fussed, never said a word, when a student told them to shut up and stop, I said ‘No, it’s OK, let them say what they want to.’ I sat there in my seat, never got up to call office, just made sure all the class stayed safe.”
Temple said Rand Road Principal Rhonda Jones spoke to the class on Feb. 11 and that a student’s allegations about her “were proven false by the principal.”
Jones declined to comment on Temple’s statement, deferring to the school’s public information office.
Lisa Luten, communications director for Wake County Public Schools, described the situation from the school system’s perspective.
“The principal and staff at Rand Road Elementary talked with several students about comments made by a substitute teacher,” said Luten. “The day ended before staff was able to fully understand what happened. Substitute teachers who do not meet the standards and expectations in any Wake County Public School System classroom are prohibited from teaching in any of the district’s schools. School leaders talked with multiple students and families.”
WCPSS chief spokesman Tim Simmons said, “Her decision came after some staff members at Rand Road talked with students who voiced concerns about comments she made in their class.”
Temple said she resigned before she knew about the controversy and later tried to rescind it.
“I understand my resignation was accepted and already processed and will not be rescinded,” said Temple. “ I did the right thing to ask to rescind my resignation, for there are many students I taught in Wake County since 2001 with good evaluations each year and successful K-12 subbing as well.”
‘DISCRIMINATION AGAINST ME’
Temple said she is a victim of racial discrimination by the parent of the student who made the allegations.
“I am a Republican and a Christian. This was an issue of discrimination against me for my skin tone, for the first time in my life, I said to Mrs. Jones by phone, and my political affiliation,” said Temple.“The parent persecuted me in the media on viral video, on TV and newspapers. His social media has caused possible harm to me in the future by his horrific lies which are very dangerous and malicious in nature. He harmed my reputation and the school and school system.”
Temple alleged the news media made no effort to get her side of the story until after reporting the parent’s version of what happened.
“Two channels came to my house after they already had reported it, but I opened and closed the door,” said Temple. “I do not want to talk to any reporters from there. Do not send them to me, I will not speak with them, I only want to go by email and letter I attached, that is it.”
Temple said she hopes Wake County Pubic Schools officials will vindicate her.
“I hope Wake County Schools will come out and into the media and clear me. I know that schools tend to protect students under age, and that may be why they have not said anything, or either not to cause more problems with the parent,” said Temple. “But, in any case, they should do the right thing and tell the truth to all, including the other students in the class and their parents who know the truth already.”
The Wake County school board chairman said no further statements will be made.
“No further statements are made pertaining to investigations,” said Martin. “ These are personnel matters and thus are not public matters.”
Simmons affirmed Martin’s comment.
“We have no plans to issue further statements,” said Simmons.
OTHER SUBSTITUTE JOBS
Temple said she resigned to work for Cumberland County Schools. But a Cumberland County spokeswoman said Temple hasn’t substituted there since late last year.
“Our records show that we previously had a substitute teacher named Elizabeth Temple, but she has not worked for Cumberland County Schools since November,” said Cumberland County spokeswoman Lindsey Whitley.
Temple was previously employed by Johnston County Public Schools.
“Based on our records, Elizabeth A. Temple served as a substitute teacher for JCPS from September 2014 until April 2016,” said school system spokeswoman Crystal Roberts.
Temple is a licensed K-12 music teacher and her license is active through June 2022, according to state records.
Temple said her attorney, Jesse Jones of Lillington, has advised her moving forward to only teach or substitute in private Christian schools.
“I am going to follow his advice,” said Temple.
Jones could not be reached for comment in time for this story.