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Palm Beach Daily News

Lake Worth Middle principal 'shuffled' into new job after racist parking lot confrontation

By Katherine Kokal, Palm Beach Post,


A video of a Palm Beach County middle school principal yelling at a woman in the school's parking lot has cost him his job and created disagreement within the school board on what should happen next.

Lake Worth Middle Principal Michael Williams, 52, was moved to a job away from students in late March after a video surfaced of him using racist slurs toward the woman after a minor traffic collision.

He appeared to call the woman the N-word, as well as a “Hispanic b****,” in the short video published online.

On Wednesday, board members voted to reassign Williams to another principal job at one of district's alternative education schools, where students are assigned if they struggle to succeed in either comprehensive or traditional schools. Next week, they'll decide whether he should be suspended for 10 days without pay .

Either way, he won't be returning to Lake Worth Middle.

But the fact that he will have a job at all disturbed at least one school board member, who tried to remove Williams from the slate of employees the school board approved for transfers on Wednesday.

"There's an individual on the list that has quite publicly failed to meet the mark of excellence that I expect for our employees, particularly from one of our principals," Alexandria Ayala said.

"The district is accustomed to a culture where when folks do something they shouldn't do, they get just shuffled around. I'm not going to sit by and stand for that," she added. "This is an individual who is a principal, somebody who should be held to a higher standard than, frankly, a lot of us, because they see children and families every single day and serve them."

More: Two longtime Palm Beach County principals removed from the job, replaced. What happened?

Ayala referred to a common practice in the school district where employees are reassigned to non-student contact positions while they're being investigated for inappropriate conduct.

This year, Watson B. Duncan Middle Principal Phillip D'Amico was also temporarily reassigned after he was arrested and charged with domestic violence toward his wife, Barbara. The charges were dropped two weeks later, and D'Amico returned to campus as principal on Monday.

Teachers and administrators have regularly been reassigned to non-student contact positions in the district's transportation office, business department or charter school office after behavior that either embarrasses the school district or spurs lawsuits.

Despite Ayala's concerns, the board voted to approve Williams' transfer to alternative education. In the same meeting, the board approved Caelethia Taylor as the new permanent principal at Lake Worth Middle.

Marcia Andrews, who previously worked as the school district's chief of human resources, said she trusted the superintendent's recommendation to transfer Williams and keep him employed.

"I don't know Mr. Williams, I don't know the exact circumstances and all the things that happened at Lake Worth Middle," she said.

But, "when the superintendent brings a recommendation to us, even when someone has gotten into trouble," Andrews said, the recommendation has gone through "investigations and recommendations" from the human resources and inspector general's offices.

Board members Erica Whitfield and Barbara McQuinn were absent from Wednesday's meeting.

Video: Principal told woman he won't pay for a 'm*****f****** thing'

The school district began its investigation of Williams on March 27 after officials became aware of the video, according to the district report.

A woman in the car who is taking the video tells Williams that he has to pay to fix her car, to which he responds that he’s not going to pay for a “m*****f****** thing.” The woman was not identified.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office had no report of the collision.

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In a letter recommending Williams' suspension, Superintendent Mike Burke said Williams violated several ethical guidelines for educators by using racist language toward a private citizen on school grounds and failing to exercise good professional judgment. Burke said the district's investigation substantiated those claims.

The board will vote on the 10-day suspension June 14.

If Williams serves the suspension, he would return as a principal in an alternative education school starting Aug. 2. It's not yet clear where Williams would work.

Ayala lamented his new position. She said students who are placed in alternative education programs for behavioral issues or involvement in the criminal justice system shouldn't have to come in contact with principals who behave inappropriately elsewhere.

The first day of school is Aug. 10. Williams served as the principal at Lake Worth Middle from 2015 until March.

Katherine Kokal is a journalist covering education at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at . Help support our work, subscribe today!

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Lake Worth Middle principal 'shuffled' into new job after racist parking lot confrontation

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