NAACP members and local pastors are backing the angry mother of a 16-year-old boy in calling for the ouster of an assistant principal at Chapel Hill High School.
They’re calling Assistant Principal Julie Hennis “reckless” and “irresponsible” for the way she allegedly handled an alcohol-poisoning incident during summer classes.
“Had my son died, and I’d not even known it, what would they have been able to tell me?” asked Susan Headen, the mother of a 16-year-old African-American male high school student who, until recently, attended Chapel Hill High.
Headen told WCHL that on July 18, she arrived at Chapel Hill High School at 12:30 p.m. to pick up her son from summer school and take him to his part-time job at a veterinarian’s office.
She said he sat in the parking lot for about 20 minutes before she went inside to look for her son. There, she heard some frightening news from a school resource officer. Headen said the officer seemed surprised that she hadn’t received a call.
The officer told her that her son had suffered a seizure and bumped his head.
“I just stood there for a minute, and then I left and went to the hospital, where I found my son, with no name,” said Headen. “He was like a John Doe. They didn’t even know his name.”
She said she arrived at the Intensive Care wing of UNC Hospital to find her son unconscious, and attached to a ventilator. He had serious alcohol poisoning.
Even so, Headen said she had to drive back to Chapel Hill High School to pick up an incident report to bring back to hospital staff.
She said that when she arrived at the school, she spoke to Assistant Principal Julie Hennis, who was reportedly in charge that day.
Headen told WHCL that Hennis informed her that her son would probably be expelled for having alcohol on campus.
The worried mom spent the next 29 hours at the hospital, not knowing whether her son was going to make it. He did regain consciousness and recover, and has since transferred out of Chapel Hill High to Phoenix Academy High School.
Details have emerged since July 18. The student was reportedly found passed out in the school at around 9:50 a.m., three hours before his mom went looking for him. He was transported to the hospital by EMS technicians.
According to Headen, Assistant Principal Hennis did not notify her of the situation, but instead left a message with her other son to have his mother call the school. Hennis provided no details, said Headen.
Headen said that when she went back to Chapel Hill High days later for some explanations, she was told that that there was “no protocol” for handling such a situation during the summer.
News of the incident has outraged members of the local church community, and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP has gotten involved. They’re asking for Hennis to be fired.
Ten pastors recently signed a letter to that effect that was sent to the CHCCS Board of Education. One of the signers was Minister Robert L. Campbell, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP.
The letter also demands an investigation into the school resource officer on duty that day. According to Headen, the officer told her that “if this were a real emergency I would have gone,” when she asked him why he didn’t accompany her son to the hospital. The unconscious boy reportedly arrived there without an adult from the school.
At Thursday night’s meeting of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education, two members of the public spoke out about the incident.
One speaker, former Board of Education member Greg McElveen, adhered to the Board’s policy of not naming administrators, faculty or students during comments.
He made it clear, though, that he was criticizing Hennis, and he expressed disappointment to his old colleagues that she still has her job.
“There were clear standards of behavior and conduct that, no one disputes, were ignored and not followed,” said McElveen. “So, many of the facts are not in dispute. And despite that, it appears that that staff member may still be considered a valued employee in the district.”
Another speaker at the meeting, NAACP member Michelle Laws, spoke to WCHL outside the meeting room after she made her comments to the board.
She said she wanted to go on record to say this about the incident:
“Had this been a white child, and a black principal, without question – or assistant principal – without question, she would have been fired on the spot.”
Chapel Hill High School Assistant Principal Julie Hennis is white.
WCHL has reached out to Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools for comments about the issue, and we’ll keep you informed about any developments, as they happen.
UPDATE: Executive Director of Community Relations for CHCCS Jeffrey Nash told WCHL in an email that the school system declined to comment on the matter “to protect the names/reputations of the student and others involved.”
UPDATE:The News & Observer reported Friday that Hennis has been removed from Chapel Hill High School and will be reassigned.