Spring ISD principal ‘takes responsibility' for controversial comments about special-needs student

HOUSTON – A Spring Independent School District principal is learning the consequences of her words.

Word quickly spread on social media about a joke Ponderosa Elementary School Principal Shanna Swearingen made on April 17 about one of her students in front of three staff members.

The young boy is black, in special education and has behavioral problems. He is known to run from class, according to his guardian.

Swearingen was overheard saying, “We won’t chase him. We will call the police and tell them he has a gun so they can come faster.”

Michael Burnett, the PTA president for Ponderosa Elementary School, said he first read about the comments through a Spring neighborhood Facebook group. He said he’s having a tough time believing the principal would make such a remark.

“I don’t believe that it’s fair for people to take to social media on something that is hearsay,” he said. “I think the best thing would have been to come to her and ask the question.”

Burnett said the comment doesn't align with Swearingen’s character.

“The principal has been awesome. She broke her back during Hurricane Harvey and worked in homes of all races,” he added.

Several parents KPRC2 spoke with are outraged. Some are calling for Swearingen's resignation.

Others are pushing for some sort of disciplinary action that includes special needs and sensitivity training. 

"It's disgusting. That kind of comment is disgusting even if it was a joke how could you recant something like that?" parent Jessica Spoonemore said. "Children are getting killed by gun violence and that was very unnecessary and disturbing especially for an elementary school."

"It's probably going down racial lines whether we want it to or not. I think it speaks to more of what we have going on in our country as much as it is going on at this school, but some action needs to be taken," parent Christopher Mitchell said.

Still others just don't believe it. 

"She's a good principal. She helped me out when my daughter had some issues. She's always out here greeting students. She's a good principal, so I just hope someone maybe just overreacted," parent Amber Cade said.

KPRC2 reached out to Swearingen, but she was not available for an interview.

The school district told us she did take responsibility for her words and apologized to her students.

KPRC2 spoke with the guardian of the child Swearingen was talking about to staff members. His guardian was unaware such comments were made prior to speaking with Channel 2. He has a meeting scheduled with the school.

Swearingen sent a letter to parents Tuesday after KPRC2's 10 p.m. report aired Monday. The letter read:

"Ponderosa Family,

"It is with a heavy heart that I write this message. As many of you may be aware, KPRC ran a story late yesterday about Ponderosa Elementary and an incident that occurred last week where I made an insensitive comment that was not reflective of who I am nor how much I care about every student who attends this school.

"Your children mean the world to me, and I’m heartbroken that my thoughtless remark has caused disruption to the hard work underway here at Ponderosa. Here in our community, we had a hard year with Hurricane Harvey, and the damage it caused to a large part of our neighborhood. I was so proud of the unity seen in this community during the recovery efforts.

"Please know that the same commitment and drive that I had to make things right for our children after the storm, I have today as I work to make things right now with both staff and parents.

"I am truly sorry for the comment I made. It does not in any way reflect the love and care I have for the students of Ponderosa."

Shanna Swearingen, Principal
Ponderosa Elementary School"

Swearingen’s comment was also acknowledged in a letter written by Assistant Principal Marcus LeFlore to staff:

"Regarding the events of last Tuesday, April 17, 2018, one of our own, our leader, made a mistake. Something was said that should not have been said and it struck a chord based on some of the events occurring in today’s society."

Spring ISD released a statement Monday that read:

"We are aware of the situation regarding a thoughtless and insensitive comment made by the Ponderosa Elementary School principal to three staff members. As a diverse district committed to dignity and respect for all, we take this incident very seriously.

"While the comment was made in jest, it was inappropriate and should never have been made.

"That point has been thoroughly communicated to Ponderosa’s principal who actually self reported the incident to the district -- taking full accountability for the inappropriateness of the comment. Ponderosa’s principal has also apologized to her school community.

"The district will continue to monitor the school climate at Ponderosa to ensure that incidents like this do not occur again."

Spring ISD said the district and the board of trustees take "matters of this nature very seriously, we do not discuss disciplinary action pertaining to personnel matters."