DeKalb County Board of Education member Zepora Roberts apologized this month for threatening to slug a television reporter who asked her questions about her children’s employment with the school district and nepotism claims.
The threat was the worst of a wintry relationship the board’s vice chair has had with local media as the board weathers a host of scandals from recent corruption indictments to administrators and one school board member profiting off business with the district. The Organization of DeKalb Educators immediately called for Roberts’ resignation.
Roberts, who is up for re-election in November, could not be reached for comment and has generally declined to speak with reporters on a host of controversial issues. In a statement released by the district, Roberts said she has two daughters working for the district: an assistant principal and a parent coordinator (not an administrator).
“My daughter has been an employee of the school system for 23 years,” Roberts said of the assistant principal in the statement. “I was elected to the board in 2002. There is no state law or ethics standard that would require my daughter to resign or seek new employment following my election. Nor is it fair to presume that my daughter would not remain eligible for career advancement based on her work performance.”
CBS Atlanta reporter Wendy Saltzman confronted Roberts after an Aug. 6 board meeting about her daughters’ employment with the district. After answering several of Saltzman’s queries, Roberts declined to answer a question about nepotism and threatened to “slug” the reporter.
“My 10-year-old grandson was with me when I was confronted by the CBS reporter, and she questioned my daughter’s qualifications within earshot of my daughter’s child,” Roberts said. “In anger and frustration, I inappropriately threatened the reporter. I apologize to the reporter… for my outburst. But I would also ask that reporters respect the presence of children, family members and other innocent and uninvolved persons when conducting interviews.”
District officials said the issue was moot because Roberts’ daughter’s employment is not illegal. A state law passed last year that became effective in May does not allow anyone related to a school board member or district superintendent, principal, assistant principal or other district administrative staff to run for school board. But the law also only applies to those who began their employment on or after Jan. 1, 2010.
The law may preclude any board member relatives working in the district in lower positions such as a teacher from advancing, board member H. Paul Womack said.
“If it was up to me, if you’re in a supervisory position that no member of your family could be promoted (beyond the position) of teacher,” he said. “But I’m just one board member.”
Nepotism concerns have also become part of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ inquiry into the school district. SACS oversees the district’s accreditation and has requested information about the district and school board’s ethics and purchasing polices – among others – following the May indictments of former Superintendent Crawford Lewis, former Chief Operating Officer Pat Reid and two others in a school construction corruption scandal.
Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson has already ordered a review of all the district’s 247 policies and has received an extended deadline of Sept. 11 to get the information to SACS.
“We are already hard at work ensuring that we compile all the information SACS has requested,” she said.