A Lawrence County elementary school principal has been placed on leave after being accused of excessively paddling a third grader, and the county NAACP is calling her treatment “discriminatory.”

In a letter dated March 17, Hazlewood Elementary principal Datie Priest was accused of using a wooden paddle on a third-grade student 10 times in a row and then five times in a row during a separate incident, according to al.com.

Priest is now on administrative leave but is still being paid her $91,800 annual salary.

The written reprimand, which Priest received on March 23, was written by Lawrence County Superintendent Jon Bret Smith and outlined the details of the paddling incident and other issues with the principal.

According to Smith, paddling is allowed as punishment, but “generally three licks” is the maximum permitted. 

Priest also did not write the child a disciplinary slip to document the paddling and could not recall the witnesses of the second paddling when she was questioned on March 11.

Accusations of bias

Smith’s letter claims that Priest acknowledged the incident to supervisors and later to him. Priest said both times that the student was “given a choice of two licks by his teacher or 10 by me, and it’s my personal belief that he would not take a paddling by a White teacher," but she also “did not think he would choose 10 licks" when the choice was issued.

Lawrence County Chapter of NAACP Vice President Bobby Diggs said he felt Priest’s treatment was “discriminatory” and biased. 

Christine Garner, a District 1 school board member, said Priest is “very qualified” and “doing the best job she can.” Garner said Smith should “become more aware of what is going on at Hazlewood Elementary.

“...Some people think because she’s a Black woman, she can’t be a good principal,” Garner said. “In Alabama, it’s hard for a Black woman to excel.”

More issues

Priest was hired at Hazlewood in July 2020 after her contract with Decatur City Schools was not renewed.

In addition to the paddling incident, Smith’s letter cites two Hazewood employees who said they witnessed Priest say she would “throat punch” an autistic student if he ran into her again after bumping into her once.

The letter also complains about Priest arriving to work late and leaving early and questions Priest’s handling of school money.

According to her LinkedIn page, Priest has 18 years of experience in education and she says she fosters "resilience through purposeful engagement" by using "collaboration, engagement and reflection.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email will.blakely@1819News.com.