BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — A student is suing Alabama’s Birmingham City Schools and the Board of Education for failing to protect her from an alleged predator, her history teacher.
The lawsuit claims that teacher was asking female students for sex in exchange for better grades.
Attorney Julian Hendrix says he knows of at least five students who were approached in this reported “sex for grades” scheme.
And after his client was allegedly solicited, she had to keep attending his class.
“It’s disturbing,” Hendrix said.
Hendrix said Phillip Smith III went after the most vulnerable students in his history class at Huffman High School.
“Individuals who struggle academically, they struggle with truancy issues, possibly struggle with behavioral issues, and also struggle with some delinquency issues,” Hendrix said.
Hendrix represents a former student of Smith’s, who they are calling “Alice” in order to protect her identity. According to Hendrix, Smith told Alice to move her desk close to his during a test because he suspected she’d cheat.
However, during that test the lawsuit says Smith dropped a note on Alice’s desk which read “come back on 7th period, pull down your pants and let me kiss your *expletive.* I will do an ‘A or B’ or whatever you want.”
Hendrix says Alice immediately told her mother after school, who called police.
“What’s troubling is that my client wasn’t removed from the class afterwards. The teacher was not removed,” Hendrix said. “There were no measures, there was nothing put in place to make sure she was protected. And that’s troubling. It concerns me.”
The alleged incident occurred in 2013. Hendrix says the note was thrown out, and nothing was done until another student complained nearly two weeks later.
Smith was charged with having sexual contact with that student and two counts of sodomy.
He plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge and only then was he let go from Huffman.
The lawsuit asks for damages, as well as changes to school policies.
“This is about our youth. It’s about our kids,” Hendrix said. “If you see something doesn’t work, then why not take the means to change it?”
This lawsuit won’t be Smith’s first time as a defendant. In 2002, Smith was arrested on a domestic violence charge.
In a deposition, Smith’s ex-girlfriend accused him of choking her, throwing her to the ground and causing her to skin her knee, and threatening to kill her.
Smith plead guilty to a third-degree domestic violence charge and completed a domestic violence program.
In 2004, Smith was indicted by the federal government on 15 firearms charges.
He pleaded guilty to dealing in firearms without a license, and possession of a firearm after conviction on a misdemeanor crime of violence. The other 13 charges were dropped.
Smith was ordered to start his prison sentence on May 31, 2006.
All of these arrests and court proceedings played out while Smith worked for Birmingham City Schools.
In an email, Chanda Temple, a spokeswoman for Birmingham City Schools explained:
According to our Human Resources Department:
Phillip Smith III was hired on Aug. 9, 2000 to work as a social studies teacher at Wenonah High School.
He requested a personal leave of absence from August 2006 to March 2007.
Upon his return to work in March 2007, he was transferred to work as a social studies teacher at Huffman High School.
There is no record of Birmingham City Schools being notified of Smith’s federal charges while he was employed with the district.
He was terminated from his position at Huffman High on April 18, 2014.”
While Birmingham City Schools claims to have had no prior knowledge of the federal charges, the Alabama State Department of Education confirms it was aware of Smith’s run-ins with the law.
In an email, Erica Pippins, a spokeswoman for the Alabama State Department of Education, said:
Thank you for your inquiry about Phillip Smith III. Mr. Smith voluntarily surrendered his Alabama Professional Educator Certificate in October of 2014, after he was charged with School Employee having Sexual Contact with a Student, one count of Sodomy in the First Degree and one count of Sodomy in the Second Degree.
Prior to that, in 2003, the Alabama State Department of Education determined that Mr. Smith was suitable for holding an Alabama Professional Educator Certificate. At that time the Department was aware that Mr. Smith possessed a domestic violence 3rd (harassment) conviction. The Department determined that he had completed a domestic violence program pursuant to a plea deal in that case. At the time the Department did not have information to show that he had actually harmed anyone. Subsequently, in 2008, the Department received information regarding Mr. Smith’s firearms convictions, which appeared to be based, at least in part, on his having possession of a firearm while having a conviction for domestic violence. At that time, he was again determined to be suitable for employment. That decision was based upon consideration of the factors that may be considered under case law and the Alabama Child Protection Act of 1999, as amended (“the Act”). Consistent with the requirements of the Act, regarding certified applicants for employment, the Department made a suitability determination and did not report any criminal convictions to the school system.
Understand that not all convictions make a person unsuitable to work in an educational environment. Convictions for the crimes listed in section 16-23-5(b) of the Code of Alabama (1975) would preclude a person from holding any certification from the Alabama State Department of Education. The crimes listed in the statute include, among others, capital murder, rape, murder, kidnapping, or robbery, and any crime involving endangerment to the health, safety, or welfare of a child that was created on or after March 31, 2010.
The Department first learned of an allegation that Mr. Smith was soliciting a minor for sex on March 24, 2014; a proposed action was then taken against Mr. Smith’s certification.
Although it would not have necessarily changed the decision about Mr. Smith’s background check, since 2008 the Department has implemented different procedures and allocated additional resources for reviewing criminal history and prosecuting administrative actions against certificate holders. Additionally, the routing process for files has been streamlined so that decisions can be made more efficiently. The Department’s Certification Search website (tcert.alsde.edu/portal) allows users to check the background review status of any certificate holder. The Department has also offered training regarding professional conduct, including the maintenance of proper professional boundaries. Further training programs are in development, as well as a revamped Educator Code of Ethics.”