A teacher in Anderson, South Carolina, has retired after a video went viral showing her standing on a black student’s desk and pulling on his hair.
Lisa Houston, who is white, taught math for 27 years at Palmetto High School and voluntarily resigned this week after the episode came to light. A video posted on Snapchat showed her, among other things, tapping the student on the face, turning his head, pulling his hair and pushing him in the chest with the bottom of her foot, according to The State newspaper.
She said her actions were simply her way of waking the student in a lighthearted way.
“If you ask any kid I’ve taught, they’ll tell you I kid around with them, make them stay awake and laugh with them,” Houston told local TV station WYFF. “I know the video looks bad. If you don’t know the situation, you don’t know what’s going on, but it was not a malicious act. It was all in fun. I want the public to know that I love the student, and that our rapport with each other was great. I would have never done anything to hurt him.”
Anderson School District One officials said that as soon as they heard about the video, they started investigating but that Houston made the decision to resign on her own.
“The district wishes our community to know that the school administration immediately conducted an inquiry into what occurred,” Jane Harrison, an assistant superintendent for the school district, told The Greenville News in a written statement. “The individual has already separated as an Anderson 1 teacher. Although the district is unable to comment in detail about the matter, the administration took seriously what occurred, and the teacher, who has had an exemplary record of teaching performance, decided of her own accord that she would retire in the best interest of her school.”
Houston’s attorney Ryan Beasley told reporters the video does not tell the whole story.
“There were many witnesses in the classroom as to what happened and the playful nature of her relationship with her students,” he said. “We are confident that as more facts come to light, her reputation as an excellent and loving teacher will be restored.”
Other students in the classroom can be heard laughing in the video.
Julian Johnson, the father of the student in the video, told Fox Carolina that his family never asked that Houston be disciplined for her actions.
“My son has nothing to do with this. He was tired and went to sleep,” Johnson said. “I didn’t call for her to be fired. I wish it would go away and that it never happened.”
Many other students, parents and officials are protesting Houston’s resignation, saying she’s getting a raw deal.
More than a hundred past and present students marched from the school to the district office to lament her leaving the school.
“She is an amazing educator, an amazing woman in this community and Anderson District One lost a great teacher in her,” former student Marcus Coppola told WSPA TV.
On Wednesday, school board member Doug Atkins resigned from the board in response to Houston’s retirement, according to Fox Carolina.
As of Friday afternoon, more than 1,400 people had signed a petition demanding that she be restored as a teacher.