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Lambert principal placed on leave after Facebook posts
Davison - photo by Kayla Robins

SOUTH FORSYTH — The principal of Lambert High School in south Forsyth was placed on temporary leave Thursday afternoon following recent posts he made on social media that other students and faculty found to be anti-Muslim and negative toward minorities.

The action was the result of a meeting Thursday between Gary Davison, who has led the school at Old Atlanta Highway and Nichols Road since it opened in 2009, and Forsyth County School Superintendent Jeff Bearden. Assistant Principal Pam Bibik was been named acting principal.

The posts came to light Wednesday when Yassin Watson, a 2015 graduate of Lambert, and others started speaking out against Davison by sharing the posts online. The posts were dated from June, July, November and December of 2015.

Most of the posts focused on anti-Muslim rhetoric, calling Islam a violent religion. One dated Nov. 16 shared an article from Gov. Nathan Deal’s office that called for Georgia to stop accepting Syrian refugees. Other posts were unfavorable toward the LGBT community, Planned Parenthood and Caitlyn Jenner.

In a statement, Bearden noted that the “school district values all individuals and does not tolerate discrimination.”

“Dr. Davison has issued a personal apology to students, parents, staff and the community,” Bearden said. “He acknowledges and recognizes the damage his personal posts have done to his position as the leader of Lambert and commits to addressing those concerns.

“The school district is also committed to assessing its ongoing efforts with staff and students to celebrate the diversity of our community and promote acceptance of everyone.”

Officials could not expand on the timeline of when a decision might be made on whether Davison will return to Lambert, said Jennifer Caracciolo, spokeswoman for the district.

Caracciolo could also not respond to speculation in online feedback from the community that the matter is one of First Amendment rights, citing the confidentiality of personnel issues.

The First Amendment protects the freedom of speech and of the press from being censored by any law.

Davison’s case is more related to the content of his posts than his ability to post them, Caracciolo said.

“There are certain standards educators are held to, and we do have an acceptable use policy for social media,” she said.

According to that policy, “staff members presently using social media sites, such as Facebook, to communicate with friends, family and their personal networks should ensure that their privacy settings are set to ‘only friends.’

“If the ‘friends of friends’ or ‘networks and friends’ settings are used, staff members open their content to a much larger group of people, including students and parents.”

Caracciolo noted educators do use social media to contact and interact with students, but that such dealings must remain professional.

The policy states, “Any content staff members publish, pictures they post, or dialogue they maintain, whether in Facebook, Twitter, a blog, a discussion thread or other website should never compromise the professionalism, integrity and ethics in their role as an FCS professional.

“The wall between the role of a public educator and personal friendships with students should always be visible and strongly communicated.”

In an open letter to Davison posted on his Facebook page Wednesday afternoon, Lambert graduate Watson said, “People are certainly entitled to their opinions. Sharing them on Facebook is questionable. But that which is completely crystal clear is that it has serious negative consequences on the growth of young students into the safe, happy, productive and intellectual beings they are destined to be.”

Davison’s Facebook profile can no longer be found.

“I humbly apologize to the current and former students of Lambert, their parents, the school staff and our community for the shared posts on my personal Facebook,” Davison said in a statement released by the school system. “I offended many individuals and embarrassed our school.

“I ask for your forgiveness. I have learned a valuable lesson from these mistakes and I am committed to regaining our community’s trust.”

Lambert is the largest high school in the Forsyth system, with more than 2,900 students.

Davison, who holds a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a doctorate, opened Lambert after serving as principal of South Forsyth High from 2006-08.

Davison also served as principal at Settles Bridge Elementary from 2003-06. Between 2000-03, he was an assistant principal at Dunwoody and Lakeside high schools in DeKalb County and at Settles Bridge.