ANDERSON — When Levi Crusmire checked his business’s Facebook page Friday, he was surprised by a local teacher’s critical post related to the death of Crusmire’s 15-year-old son.
Crusmire insists Eastside Elementary School teacher Sharon Turner should be fired. Anderson Community Schools Superintendent Timothy Smith says she’s shielded by her First Amendment rights.
Anderson High School sophomore Levi B. Crusmire II died Aug. 7 in an all-terrain vehicle crash near his home in the 10600 block of County Road North 200 West.
The Facebook post, which has since been deleted, read, “Everybody grieves differently I guess. We are more traditional and less white trash.”
The elder Crusmire said Wednesday he’s “holding anger and resentment” and he hopes “forgiveness will come one day.”
“Bullying isn’t OK, no matter where you are in life or what position you are,” he said.
Turner could not be reached for comment.
Crusmire, who was ordering his son’s headstone Wednesday, said he doesn’t really know Turner but believes he might have trimmed trees for her in the past and that maybe she was Levi’s teacher at some point. Crusmire operates Notch Above the Rest Tree Service.
“We don’t even know this woman. She brought herself into our world,” he said.
Crusmire said that when he first read the comment, he was confused. It’s been only a couple of weeks since the death of his son. He’s proud Levi was an organ donor and said Turner’s actions tarnish the family’s reputation.
“He’s already gave somebody sight,” Crusmire said of his son. “He’s already helped somebody live.”
When Crusmire contacted Anderson Community Schools, he said, Superintendent Smith’s response was not reassuring. He said Smith told him it was an excited utterance and that Turner actually meant the post for her daughter.
“I don’t understand how a speech teacher accidentally wrote a whole sentence,” Crusmire said.
The grieving father said he forgives Turner’s misstep, but he still insists she should be fired.
“It’s my choice to forgive this woman. If my son was here, I would tell my son to do it,” he said. “She should be fired. She should not be around kids when their minds are developing the most. She needs to learn how to be a teacher again. She obviously has lost her way.”
Smith said there is very little he can say about the incident because it is a personnel issue. He added it is being investigated and going through due process but that likely there is little he can do because of Turner’s First Amendment rights.
“Our policies are regulated by the Constitution like everybody else’s,” he said. “Every situation has to be investigated, and the specifics in each situation will vary.”
Smith said the comment was not directed at the Crusmire family.
“I know the teacher tried to apologize and was not allowed to do so,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of emotions running high. Our support for the Crusmire family has been very strong.”
He said the district provided transportation for students to attend Levi’s funeral and money has been raised to support a foundation that is being established in his name.
“We believe we have been very supportive. This is a very unfortunate social media issue,” Smith said, noting that the district gives staff professional development training on appropriate use of social media.
“We have that conversation quite frequently with people when we see things on social media that are questionable,” he said. “We do have those conversations with staff members about what they put out and where they put it out.”
Donna Petraits, executive director of the Indiana chapter of the National School Public Relations Association, said while it’s true school district employees have First Amendment rights as government employees, they should be careful about their personal and professional posts online.
“As a school corporation, I would always have a social media, if not policy, at least guidelines,” she said. Those guidelines, she added, should be vetted by an attorney.
With proper guidelines in place, Petraits said, superintendents absolutely have the right to terminate an employee whose online actions reflect poorly on a district.
“The superintendent can come back and say, ‘This is going to cause a substantial disruption in the classroom, and this may filter down to the students in the classroom,’” she said.