The Escambia County School Board was in a workshop when the story made the evening news. Vice Chairman Jeff Bergosh was still in sweet oblivion the next morning.
“I guess I better ask the question, ‘What happened over at Camelot?’” Bergosh said, his tone dampening after hearing the answer. “Really? Wow. Oh, wow.”
It’d been more than a month, but in early November the revelations were still fresh.
“You got me flat-footed, man,” Bergosh said.
On Sept. 22, something had happened at the Camelot Academy. It wasn’t clear exactly what. The teachers weren’t saying too much.
“The Superintendent has told us they’re investigating what was heard on the news last night,” said School Board Chairman Bill Slayton.
According to Escambia County Sheriff Office reports, the incident began when a teacher at the school requested that a student hand over a cellular phone. But then what happened?
“We hope the charges will be dropped and that will be that,” said Kirk Dorn, a spokesman based at Camelot’s corporate headquarters.
According to the sheriff’s reports, a male juvenile was sitting in class when Jamal Tillery, a teacher at Camelot, told him to hand over his cell phone. The two left the classroom, where a verbal argument ensued. Eventually, another staff
member, identified as Andrew Maxwell, entered the scene and the student relinquished his cell phone.
At that point, the student claims that Tillery punched him in the head and a physical altercation ensued.
The staff members then escorted the student to the Tiger Shark room, an area where students having a disciplinarian issue are placed. Once there, the student admitted to officers, he took off his shirt and threatened to fight the teacher.
The student claims that another teacher, Henry Calhoun, then grabbed him from behind. The teacher allegedly restrained the student’s arms from behind. While held, the student told officers that Tillery began punching him in the face and stomach. When Calhoun released him, the student said he fell to the floor, where Tillery proceeded to kick him in the stomach.
The student also claims that Tillery picked up a trash can and hit him with it two or three times as he lay on the floor. The sheriff’s report noted that the juvenile complained of abdominal pain and was limping.
Deputies spoke with the student about a week after the alleged incident. A few days after that, on Oct. 3, they spoke with Maxwell and Calhoun.
Maxwell told deputies that he had approached the student and Tillery as the two discussed the cell phone. He stated that he thought the student might have tried to hit Tillery, but that he did not actually see that happen because he was not facing that direction. He said that a physical altercation ensued and that the student was then taken to the Tiger Shark room, at which point Maxwell exited the scene.
Calhoun reported to officers that he was setting up tables in the Tiger Shark room when Tillery entered with the student. After witnessing the student become aggressive, Calhoun said he restrained him.
When asked if Tillery had struck the student with the trash can, Calhoun told officers that a trash can would not cause the type of injuries the student complained of. When asked if Tillery hit or kicked the student while he was restrained, Calhoun said that he was not ready to discuss it. He would not answer any questions pertaining to his coworker’s actions while the student was restrained.
The next day, Tillery apparently contacted the sheriff’s office and requested an interview. Though he went to the station to speak with investigators, Tillery ultimately declined to make a statement.
Both Tillery and Calhoun have been charged with battery. They both recently punted their court dates into the New Year.
“We’re waiting and hope the outcome is what we expect,” Dorn said.
Recently, Camelot’s Vice President of Operations Milton Alexander was in town making his rounds. He stood outside the organization’s local facility, casually talking with students as the day began.
“We greet the buses, hand shake, how-you-doing,” Alexander said, leading the way into the school’s offices.
Dorn had said the students at the school had been shaken by the television news report. He described them as feeling “under siege.”
During his visit, Alexander said that the students “didn’t really have a huge reaction—other than missing the teachers.”
Stepping into the office, he takes a seat at a round table and measures his words.
“This is a tangled web we weave … I don’t want to come off as being insensitive to anyone. I want to be very careful, because it’s still a kid,” he said. “We feel that the two staff members in question acted appropriately and that’ll come out.”
Camelot Academy deals with students that, for whatever reason, were not succeeding at one of the school district’s regular schools. Many of the students at Camelot are there due to disciplinarian issues. It can, by definition, be a rough place.
“There’s a lot of dynamics that go on in every crisis situation,” Alexander said. “Every situation is not the same.”
That’s why the district brought Camelot to town. To deal with students posing too great of a challenge in traditional venues.
“I applaud the school district for doing something different,” Alexander said.
At the time Camelot—a private organization that contracts with public institutions—was brought on board, questions were raised about past incidents. The company had some issues, most notably in New Orleans, with similar incidents elsewhere. The district brushed such concerns aside.
School board members still seem to feel Camelot is a good institution that deals with, at times, bad situations.
“I don’t rush to any conclusions,” said Slayton. “To terminate their entire contract, I’d have to get a little more information. This is one incident.”
The Chairman also said he wasn’t sure if the school had a “student problem or a teacher problem.”
It might depend on the day. In the past year, officers have responded to Camelot on more than 50 different occasions. Most recently, they were dispatched to respond to a report that a student had stabbed a teacher with a pencil.