Fifty-nine-year-old Dr. Lana Foster grew up as a young black girl in a segregated school system in Echols County and would later serve over thirty-four years working as one of the sole Black educators within the system. Unfortunately, despite intervention in 1969 by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights to compel desegregation and nondiscriminatory hiring practices by the Echols County School District, Dr. Foster remained the only Black certified teacher in the School District. In 2018, she filed a detailed complaint showing racialized discrimination that led to the nonrenewal of her contract, culminating when the school system filed a charge against her teaching certificate with the Professional Standards Commission. See Foster v. Echols County School District, et al., U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, Civil Action No. 7:20-CV-00087.
That history included the time Dr. Foster's husband ran for election to the Echols County Board of Education. During the election, citizens of Statenville went to a vacant lot in town and created a makeshift grave. The freshly dug grave had a headstone emblazoned with the inscription:
"Here lies the bodies of James and Lana Foster" topped with a watermelon and a black face.
Precedent 1: compelling forensic examination of school board members’ personal cell phones
Be careful what you text or you might be next! In a companion Open Records Act lawsuit, senior Superior Court Judge Gary McCorvey appointed to specially serve, ordered that the personal cell phones of the Echols County School Board members be forensically examined for racialized language and slurs which resulted in obtaining evidence for her discrimination claims.
Text messages disclosed pursuant to a Superior Court order revealed certain members of the Board of Education who participated in the decision to terminate Dr. Foster’s employment sent texts on their phones used for Board of Education business, indicating potential bias. We believe the Order granting access to the personal devices of school board members is the first-of-its-kind in Georgia. This represents a huge win for GAE members. We are using the Order in other cases as necessary in defense of GAE member rights.
Precedent 2: EEOC negotiated settlement agreement – legal and equitable remedies.
In addition to obtaining a monetary settlement in the amount of $137,500, what is notable about the settlement outcome is that Dr. Foster obtained what she desired to obtain most of all: to effect real change in the Echols County school system.
The changes arrived in the form of enforceable legal and equitable remedies. The legal remedy is the contract (the settlement agreement itself) between all parties that, if breached, can be enforced in court. In addition, the settlement agreement contains equitable remedies - things that a court can order that demands a party to stop doing or require them to be done because the act or omission is causing irreparable injury to the plaintiff which monetary damages cannot replace.
Equitable remedies required effective immediately include:
- Implementation of a recruitment and hiring plan for increasing the number of qualified Black applicants for teacher and professional positions.
- Identifying sites within reasonable distance that are the best sources for minority applicants.
- Timely notices or job postings.
- Participate in Valdosta State’s College of Education job fair.
- Require publication of the recruitment plan on the school district website.
- Professional training to the Superintendent and all management which includes assistant superintendents, principals, assistant principals, and human resource professionals, relating to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- The training must be reported directly to the EEOC.
The equitable remedies go beyond Dr. Foster as an individual to addressing the root causes of structural racism – how race structures opportunities inside and outside public schools. Her strong courage and conviction for public educational equity should inspire all of us. We thank Dr. Foster for her GAE membership.
Legal Side Bar
NEA Senior Staff Attorney, Emma Leheny, was named Acting General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Education. While the news is sad, we could not be more excited for the amazing Emma and for public education. What an honor to have NEA represented on DAY ONE in the Department of Education as part of the Biden-Harris Administration. Go Emma!
 After GAE attorneys fully explained her PSC case to the Assistant Attorney General for the State of Georgia, they agreed to recommend the case be dismissed with a no probable cause finding.