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Alabama education: Lying, screaming and gavel banging

Josh Moon



By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

I think we might be doing education wrong.

If Tuesday was an indication, we certainly could be doing it better. Because Tuesday, man … it was … awful? An embarrassment? A colossal disservice to taxpayers?

All of the above.


It started with one of the cattiest, oddest board meetings in recent history and ended with a legislative committee hearing that continued to expose the dumbest, sloppiest executed conspiracy of all time.

Let us begin with the former.

Here’s the best way to describe the tone of that meeting: At one point, board vice-president Stephanie Bell began banging a gavel any time board member Mary Scott Hunter attempted to speak.

Yeah, it was like that.

But that level of vitriol wasn’t exactly a surprise. Hunter had been going after Bell for the better part of a week, following Bell’s decision to add a surprise evaluation of superintendent Michael Sentance to the meeting agenda.

Hunter flatly refused to participate in the evaluation and spent much of the weekend talking to media outlets about how terrible and unfair it was to poor ol’ Sentance. (You should probably store this image of Hunter discussing unfair processes for when we get to Part 2 of this embarrassing day.)

Anyway, everyone knew long before the meeting started that Hunter and Bell were going to disagree, because when the whole thing is boiled down, they want different things.

Bell, and at least five other board members, want to fire Sentance.

Hunter, and maybe Betty Peters if Sentance will promise to repeal Common Core and hire some guidance counselors, want to keep Sentance.

And off they went on a shade-throwing extravaganza that would make one of those “Real Housewives of (wherever)” shows jealous.

To be certain, there’s nothing quite like a proper southern lady tossing about shade, either. There’s just something about the drawl tinged with insincere sweetness that makes merely saying the other person’s name – Ms. Huntahhh … — so condescending it would make a British royal feel shame.

Somewhere in the midst of that spectacle, it was revealed that Sentance had scored around a 1 on much of his evaluation. If you’re wondering, 1 was the worst and 3 was the highest.

Think of it like this: If Michael Sentance were a school, under the Alabama Accountability Act, students could now transfer out of him.

Except, because this is Alabama, there was an accounting error. Hunter was told that failing to fill out the evaluation of Sentance would lead to scores of 0 being logged for her response. So, to get the average scores for each category, attorneys for the board – and why the board needed attorneys to do basic math is an issue we should probably discuss at some point – used a divisor of 8 instead of 7.

Bell agreed to recalculate the scores later and the updated evaluation was placed on the State Department of Education’s website late Tuesday evening. Sentance went from a 1 to 1.3. (I’m exaggerating the awfulness of his averaged score – it was probably somewhere around 1.6, since he only scored 2 or higher in four of 37 categories.)

Despite the protests of Hunter, the board overwhelmingly voted to accept the results of the evaluation and give Sentance an opportunity to respond by the next scheduled meeting in August.

Sources close to the board told APR on Tuesday that the board majority hopes this jumpstarts plans for a negotiated resignation for Sentance. Prior to an executive session, board attorney Lewis Gillis mentioned that one possible legal reason for the executive session was to discuss mediation or negotiations that might emerge.

If/when Sentance does head back to Massachusetts, there will be a search for a new superintendent. And we can only hope that search goes as smoothly as the last one.

Because it was the subject of legislative committee hearing on Tuesday. Again.

The bipartisan committee, co-chaired by Sens. Gerald Dial and Quinton Ross, took on the unenviable task of getting to the bottom of the dumbest conspiracy in the history of Alabama public education – the smear job of Jefferson County superintendent Craig Pouncey.

Pouncey, a longtime educator in the state, was the clear frontrunner for the state superintendent job when an anonymous letter claiming he misused state resources to complete his dissertation was presented to board members.

Hunter was the only board member to take it seriously, and she took it way seriously. She gave it to interim superintendent Philip Cleveland and phoned the Ethics Commission to let them know about it. This was after she had convinced ALSDE attorney Juliana Dean to call Sentance, who had withdrawn his name from consideration for the job, and tell him to jump back in the fray.

Hunter then went down to a BCA conference in Point Clear and told anyone who would listen – including Dial and at least seven other lawmakers – that Pouncey had “ethics problems.”

And then everyone involved tried to act like it was normal that anonymous allegations of a seven-year-old made-up incident resulted in a letter from the Ethics Commission confirming an investigation and naming Pouncey in one freakin’ day.

See? It’s so dumb it hurts.

But that didn’t stop Dean and Hunter from once again rolling into a seventh-floor conference room and pretending to be outraged by the suggestions that they undermined Pouncey’s candidacy. And they both made it a point to mention that they were close friends with good ol’ Craig.

By the end of it, Dial, Ross and Rep. Merika Coleman had Hunter and Dean so twisted up by asking basic questions related to the convoluted timeline they presented that it was hard to watch.

Hunter’s testimony was particularly hard to watch, as Dial flatly accused her of lying to the committee and Ross and Coleman established that her reasoning for calling the Ethics Commission about the letter – to get guidance concerning what she should do with it – made no sense, since she had already given the letter to Cleveland by that time.

There was a new twist, however. Dial and his committee focused their questions to Hunter and Dean – two attorneys – on matters of legal ethics. The intent, obviously, was to move this matter before the state bar association for review – a move Dial said at the end of the hearing that he would make.

And then everyone went home. And not a whole lot had changed.

Except that we all lost a little more faith in the whole bunch.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Opinion | Greed is threatening the daycare bill again

Josh Moon



By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

It is happening again.

In the bowels of the Alabama State House, where the rancid sausage of state government is put together, the men are scheming again.

Scheming to kill, or severely weaken, the daycare licensing bill.


The same people are involved: Sen. Larry Stutts, the Alabama Eagle Forum and Sen. Shay Shelnutt.

For the last several days, Rep. Pebblin Warren and other advocates for the daycare bill have been meeting with that group of malcontents, listening to their insane demands and trying to come up with some way to placate this group who will apparently go to the mat to prevent churches from spending the money to properly care for and protect defenseless children.

The bill is expected to be on the Senate floor Thursday, but its fate is, at this point, unknown. Which is, quite honestly, astonishing.

Even for this group, the blatant bending to the almighty dollar in this instance is breathtaking.

In case you’ve forgotten what’s being proposed here, let me provide a quick refresher: Warren’s bill would force church-affiliated daycares to mostly follow the same rules and regulations as non-church daycares.

That’s it.

There’s nothing sneaky. No one wants to force the church daycares to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

There’s a specific provision within the bill that makes it clear that the guidelines being imposed relate entirely to the safety of the children and that the state will not get involved with curriculum.

But that’s not really a problem. And this small band of malcontents know it.

This is about money.

That’s what it’s always about in Alabama. Even when the people chasing that dollar routinely invoke the name of a man who warned repeatedly of the dangers of valuing money over people.

These daycares churn out a profit for the churches. And because they’re not beholden to the same guidelines as non-church daycares, they can often churn out a huge profit.

The math is pretty easy. If a church daycare and a non-church daycare each have 20 kids enrolled, but the non-church daycare is required to employ four, trained workers to watch those kids, while the church daycare employs just Bill, a guy who had a few hours to kill today, guess which one makes more money.

But you know, that’s not really a fair example. Because it makes Bill sound semi-competent. And in some cases, the employees, and the administrators, of these “church daycares” are anything but competent, respectable people.

You might recall that we had this debate last year. This same group of people managed to kill the daycare bill.

Less than two months after they did so, a 5-year-old child in Mobile was dead.

Because the “church daycare” he attended didn’t run a basic background check on the person driving the daycare van. Had it, it would have learned that its employee had a long criminal record.

Instead, the child was left to suffocate and die in scorching hot van and his small, lifeless body was dumped in some random front yard.

See, that’s the sort of thing that licensing prevents.

It also prevents the unintentional poisoning of children (yep, that happened), the burning of children by workers smoking cigarettes too close to them (happened), the near death of dozens of children from extreme food poisoning (happened) and the deaths of children in a fire-trap daycare (happened).

We all know what the right thing is here. And in moments when they’re not beholden to special interest groups and lobbyists, Alabama’s lawmakers let you know that they also know what’s right.

Gov. Kay Ivey did so last August, shortly after the death of the 5-year-old in Mobile. When asked if all church daycares should be regulated, Ivey said she “strongly believes” that all daycares should be licensed by the state.

But that was before campaign season. Before the church-backed lobbying groups and PACs got involved.

These days, Ivey is less forceful. Sources told APR that Ivey told a group of lawmakers that she would take no position on the bill.

When I asked her office directly what her position is, “strongly believes” all daycares should be state licensed morphed into … some other words.

Governor Ivey remains in favor of improved guidelines for day care facilities in Alabama,” the statement from her office read. “She believes more must be done to protect our children and that it is essential we have quality day care staff, rendering quality service.”

It is essential.

Unfortunately, with our weak state leadership — from the governor’s office on down — bending to the call of money, thousands of Alabama are unlikely to experience that essential service.

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Opinion | Active shooter on campus! Wasp spray may save us

Joey Kennedy



By Joey Kennedy
Alabama Political Reporter

I spent 90 minutes Tuesday afternoon in UAB’s Heritage Hall learning how to respond to an active shooter on campus.

You know, some deranged individual out to cause as much mayhem has he can, shooting and killing and shooting. And killing.

Yeah, it’s sad. But it’s today’s reality.


I teach English at UAB. I’ve been doing this for 18 years. I love it.

My first semester of teaching was September 2001. Two weeks into the semester, terrorists flew passenger jets into the Trade Towers in New York, into the Pentagon in Washington, into the ground in Pennsylvania.

I truly had no idea what I was doing, in front of my class at UAB that first semester in 2001. And two weeks into it, I had 9/11.

I didn’t count absences on that Sept. 11. We coped. We endured. We hurt. We still hurt.

In the 18 years I’ve been a part-time English teacher at UAB, we’ve endured many horrible shootings, many terror attacks.

Columbine happened two years before I started teaching. But since then, there have been so many shootings. Too many shootings to list, too many shootings to name.

But not so many that some can’t be named. Like the 2007 massacre on the campus of Virginia Tech University, where a senior student shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others.

Some of these shootings are too close to home, like the 2010 catastrophe at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, where 44-year-old biology professor Amy Bishop killed the chairman of the biology department and others.

And more school shootings, many other school shootings, too many other school shootings, including the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. Twenty 6- and 7-year-old children died that day, as well as six members of the school’s staff.

Since Sandy Hook, there are yet other shootings – not just school shootings, either, though there have been plenty of those. In Charleston at a church. In Orlando at a nightclub. In Las Vegas at a concert.

And, yet, Congress, dominated by NRA Republicans, refuses to act. Refuses to do what it can to make us more safe.

Then, on Valentine’s Day, in Parkland, Fla., a few weeks ago, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, 17 students and adults were gunned down. Others were injured.

A few weeks ago. The students there aren’t staying quiet. They’ve started the #NeverAgain movement, and on March 24 in Birmingham, there will be a rally at Railroad Park and a march through Birmingham to encourage – implore – our political leaders to do something.


So here I am, an English instructor at UAB, for 18 years now, sitting in a classroom to receive instruction on how to respond to an active shooter on campus. There’s even a pamphlet: “UAB Police Active Shooter Guide.”

A pamphlet.

It’s where we are, as a nation, where we are today. I praise UAB officials and campus police for offering the class. When I received the message from the dean that the classes were available, I wanted to cry. Hell, I did cry.

How did we get here? Where, instead of teaching the Rhetorical Triangle, I’m worrying about barricading a door or making sure my students evacuate the building before being gunned down by a nut.

What stunned me before my active shooter class even started was that, since 2014, UAB Police officials have conducted nearly 200 such active shooter response classes.

This was my first.

And I learned that wasp spray might be my best weapon. We were told that even trained officers, police officers who go to shooting ranges, work under stressful conditions, patrol and police in the real world, miss 70 percent to 80 percent of the time they fire their weapons.

So, we’re told, that distracting the shooter may be our best option, if we can’t high-tail-it out of our building to a safer place.

Barricade the doors with chairs and desks and filing cabinets. But if the shooter gets in, distract him by throwing stuff at him. Swarm him. Maybe, I decided, I would carry the wasp spray and have it handy if the shooter looked my way. Hornet poison certainly will hurt, if you aim it right.

And an AR-15 will kill, even if you aim it wrong.

Yet, I mainly want to teach my students how to negotiate a college essay or convince them that Ernest Hemingway, the bastard that he was, is the best short story writer of the 20th century.

I want to encourage my students to read and enjoy words. I want them to appreciate Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening,” especially when Edna takes off her clothes and swims deep into the Gulf of Mexico to claim her independence.

I want my students to celebrate a good semester, to rejoice and appreciate their A or B or C.

I don’t want to keep wasp spray in my book bag. But I guess I will.

Because this is now. And, frankly, now sucks.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes this column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

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Opinion | Montgomery reappoints disgraced judge, needs new leadership

Josh Moon



By Josh Moon

Alabama Political Reporter

Former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard shouldn’t go to prison.

Nope. His sentence should be commuted and he should be returned to his lofty position atop the Alabama House, because the things he did, while illegal, were not things that he invented and he wasn’t alone in doing those things.


Lots of lawmakers before him were using their offices for personal gain. Lots of lawmakers were involved in the schemes, or schemes very similar, for which Hubbard was convicted of 12 felonies.

So, set the man free and let him reign over the Legislature once again.

That’s stupid, right?

No one believes that the above argument — that others were doing it, so what’s the big deal? — is an argument that holds any real weight with adults, right? It’s an elementary schooler’s argument, right?

Well, apparently y’all haven’t met the Montgomery City Council and Mayor Todd Strange.

Because if their friends were jumping off bridges, they would be right with them.

On Tuesday, despite vocal disagreement from numerous citizens — and not a single citizen speaking in favor of it — the council accepted the mayor’s reappointment of Judge Lester Hayes to the Montgomery Municipal Court.

If you’re unfamiliar with Hayes, you should be aware that he’s quite unique in Alabama, a state that goes to great lengths to never, ever punish or even investigate most judges. Hayes was not only investigated, he was removed from the bench in 2016.

That decision by the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) followed a number of complaints filed against him over his continued jailing of indigent defendants, and also because of his use of a private probation company contracted with the City of Montgomery to extract pennies from the penniless.

The JIC called the findings against Hayes — that he violated TEN! different canons of judicial ethics — “very troubling” and “serious.”

And they were.

Because in addition to violating those canons, Hayes also blatantly violated Alabama law when he locked up poor people without offering them a chance to explain their situation or present evidence of indigency.

And he continued to do this, over and over, despite complaints from attorneys in town, despite threats of lawsuits from the Southern Poverty Law Center, despite the pleas of poor people and despite his responsibility to know and uphold the laws of this state.

And Hayes stopped this practice, not out of some deep concern for the people of Montgomery or out of a crisis of conscience, but because he and the city courts were sued on three separate occasions in federal court.

And to prove there was zero remorse on his part, Hayes illegally took a legal job with the City of Montgomery and was later forced by the JIC to repay the city his salary.  

But on Tuesday, none of that mattered to the mayor and seven of the Montgomery City Council members who voted to reappoint Hayes to the bench. (Only councilman Tracy Larkin voted against Hayes.)

Their childlike reasoning: Hayes wasn’t the only judge to lock up poor people, and he didn’t start the practice.

For normal adults, such a statement would be the start of a process to remove all of the judges who violated the laws so blatantly. Because while the council spoke at great length of how such practices were common in Alabama and in other cities, it is more common that such practices are uncommon.

Thousands of American cities have managed to conduct business without operating debtors’ prisons. They either never had them, recognizing their cruelty and uselessness, or they voluntarily stopped them without court intervention.

But Montgomery is apparently led by a different group of people.

That group was unconcerned that Hayes had admitted in legal filings to treating the citizens that the council are supposed to represent unfairly and cruelly. That group of city leaders apparently believe it’s OK if judges get caught up in an illegal conspiracy to improperly jail citizens. That leadership group accepted a juvenile excuse and ignored their constituents.

So maybe Les Hayes isn’t the real problem here.

Maybe Montgomery needs new leadership.

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Alabama education: Lying, screaming and gavel banging

by Josh Moon Read Time: 5 min