Gaither teacher resigns in midst of investigation over social media posts

Chuck Henderson said he was hacked. He said the district demanded his resignation.
Gaither High School in northern Hillsborough County
Gaither High School in northern Hillsborough County [ Times (1997) ]
Published May 28, 2020|Updated May 28, 2020

TAMPA — A social studies teacher at Gaither High School resigned this week following allegations, which he denied, that he posted racist comments and belonged to a hate group on Facebook.

Vernon “Chuck” Henderson, 40, said he was innocent and his Facebook account was hacked. The school district told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday that its investigation of Henderson was still under way.

Henderson, however, said he was pushed to resign.

“I didn’t really have a choice,” he said. “They called me at 3:30 yesterday. They said if I didn’t resign, they would put me before the School Board, which would fire me and go after my pension and my teaching certificate. They gave me until 5 o’clock.”

The allegation, raised on a Twitter site called We Will Be Ruthless, was that Henderson was part of a members-only Facebook group called the Right Wing Death Squad.

The Twitter group displayed messages that had been posted under Henderson’s name. Some agreed with other posters’ comments in conversations that took racist turns. One was disparaging to African nations, stating that “until the 1670′s, Africa didn’t have one city that wasn’t made out of mud and sticks.”

Henderson, a 17-year district employee who has worked in two high schools as an assistant principal, said the posts were not his.

“This is my character,” he said. “This is not comments I would make. This is not things I would do.”

He said he believes somebody took over his account during a recent hospital stay.

“It’s a horrible situation, and horrible allegations, and things that I would never say,” he said. "I never knowingly or willingly went into that group, and I would never be a part of a group like that. I’m a moderate, politically.”

Henderson said that after the Twitter activity began late last week, he and his family began receiving threatening phone calls. He said he reported the calls to police. He said he contacted his principal and the district’s Office of Professional Standards.

Gaither principal Thomas Morrill also said that he contacted Professional Standards, as is protocol. While not able to speak to Henderson’s innocence or guilt, he said the situation was sad, adding, “We want to support diversity in our school and with our students and in our school system."

Henderson said he offered to go to the district office for an in-person interview, but was not given the chance.

In the meantime, the matter drew attention on social media, including a Facebook Live program operated by activist Bianca Goolsby.

Tanya Arja, spokeswoman for the district, said there was little she could say about the matter.

She did provide a general statement from superintendent Addison Davis, but stressed that it was not meant to make any assumption about Henderson.

“Under my leadership, our district will not tolerate racism of any kind," Davis’ statement said.

"Any behavior that has a detrimental effect on our students and staff, or the positive culture at our schools, will be dealt with in a swift manner. We will continue to protect the core values of our district and our community.”