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Alabama’s education circus never stops

Alabama Superintendent Michael Sentance

By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama State Department of Education circus keeps chugging along.

As department staff and superintendent Michael Sentance gear up for an all-important board meeting next week – yet another meeting that could bring an end to Sentance’s tenure – ALSDE has been dealing with fires on a number of fronts.

News of Sentance’s decision to fire popular deputy superintendent Jeff Langham has angered most of the state’s education community. Several sources have told APR that State Board members were also angered by the move and see it as the final indication that a future with Sentance at the helm is unworkable.

To that end, two sources have told APR that the deck is so stacked against Sentance heading into that meeting that Alabama Board of Education attorney Lewis Gillis has been attempting to contact Sentance’s attorneys in an effort to possibly negotiate a severance arrangement to facilitate a smooth transition. However, neither Sentance nor his attorney have responded to Gillis.

In the meantime, Sentance has carried forward with ALSDE business and exploring ways to trim the department’s budget in order to offset a projected $3 million-$8 million shortfall. Sources within the department said more layoffs have been discussed – rumors of which have only added to the tense feel around the office.

Perhaps the oddest development has been ALSDE staff trolling a popular education blog, Education Matters, which operated by Larry Lee. Two high-ranking ALSDE officials have taken issue with a recent post by Lee.

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The first was Jermall Wright, who was hired by Sentance to head up the Office of School Turnaround. Wright commented on a post about Langham’s firing to tell Lee that some minor information in the post was wrong. After Lee responded, Wright replied again to tell him that he didn’t understand the work his office was doing.

That same post caught the attention of Chasidy White, a former Tuscaloosa teacher who gained some attention for herself by being an outspoken Common Core critic. She was Sentance’s first hire and serves as his director of strategic initiatives.

White was so offended by Lee’s characterization of her job as Sentance’s “chief cheerleader and political operative” that she nearly had a heart attack. At least, that’s what she claimed in a Facebook message she apparently wrote to a person at the company that hosts Lee’s blog.

“… you own the domain which hosts and strategically promotes Larry Lee’s blog,” White wrote, according to a screen shot of the message posted by Lee. “Last week, he published an article which maliciously libeled me, and intentionally was defamation of my character. This was intentional infliction of emotional distress, and I had to go to the emergency room because it almost caused a heart attack. It is my sincere hope that you take the article down.”

Lee was unmoved.

“This is a small, but very, very sad example of what a charade is now taking place at our State Department of Education,” Lee wrote on his blog.

And the circus rolls on.

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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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