Ex-educator pushed adoption
By Kevin McClintock/Carthage Press
September 03, 2009
Key passages inside a 13-page transcript of a 2007 conversation involving a former Carthage Parents as Teachers employee inside a state prison played a significant role in last week’s vote by R-9 Board members to terminate Lynda Homa’s tenure, according to R-9 attorney Tom Mickes.
Mickes, an education attorney who represented the district during last month’s termination hearing, said the transcript made the board’s decision “a no-brainer.” Though he didn’t attend last Thursday’s closed meeting, he said the transcript made board members “feel more comfortable about their decision.”
What board members studied during the meeting was the hour-long conversation, spoken entirely in Spanish, between then-parent educator Laura Davenport and Encarnacion (Angelica) Alvarado, a Guatemalan citizen and former PAT client arrested and incarcerated inside the Osceola, Mo. jail on identity charges.
During the Aug. 13 termination hearing, Davenport claimed she had driven to the jail to obtain Alvarado’s signature for a birth certificate form she was carrying for the woman’s son, Carlos, at the time living in Carthage with relatives. While Davenport said adoption was “mentioned” during her conversation with the incarcerated alien, it hadn’t been the trip’s sole purpose.
However, the transcript clearly showed Davenport mentioning adoption on four separate occasions during the conversation, at times pushing hard to get the woman to change her mind about the matter. At one point in the transcript, Carlos’ mother began to cry.
There was also no mention of the birth certificate Davenport took with her, the central reason, she told Henningsen earlier this year, why she made the trip to central Missouri in the first place. In fact, the only mention of any sort of official documentation in the transcript was made not by Davenport but by the incarcerated mother, who was hoping to obtain a passport for Carlos when she was deported back to Central America.
The first mention of adoption by Davenport concerned the merits of an open adoption, which allows parents to see their children on visits. Later, she described adoption as “something beautiful” and not ugly or bad.
“What you are saying by giving him up for adoption is that you know he will be in better hands and he will grow up with better opportunities,” Davenport said. The two women spoke via phones, separated by a slab of glass; and both knew prison officials were recording their words.
“I know that the concept of adoption is different for Hispanics, because you call it ‘giving away,’” Davenport said a little bit later. “Adoption here, though, means to put your child in the hands of someone that you know will be able to take care of him.”
Attempts to contact Davenport at her home on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
The transcript clearly showed the imprisoned mother resisting Davenport’s verbal advances concerning adoption, often saying her faith in Christ would pull her and toddler son through. She also placed much faith in the passport for Carlos. Without it, her son would be left behind in the States while she was sent back to Central America.
“I believe God gave me the children, and He is going to helping me,” Alvarado said. She had two other children living with family members in Guatemala. “I believe God gave me the children, and He is going to help me. We will see what happens and I will see if I can get him a passport. I am going to keep fighting.”
During last month’s hearing, both Homa and Davenport denied the purpose of the Sept. 19, 2007 trip revolved around adoption, but rather was a mercy mission of sorts to help Carlos receive the aid he desperately needed.
The prison transcript proved instrumental, school officials say, because it was the very notion of an R-9 paid PAT employee talking and even forcing adoption onto the imprisoned mother that eventually attracted the attention of New York Times reporter Ginger Thompson, who spoke with Alvarado and members of her family before contacting Homa back in April 2009, and Henningsen a few days later.
In fact, Henningsen said it was during this conversation with Thompson that he first caught wind of the PAT prison trip, which had been the first in the program’s history to travel beyond R-9 school boundaries. The 2007 trip took place when Gary Reed still served as the district’s superintendent. Henningsen wasn’t hired until the summer of 2008.
When Davenport met with Homa inside Henningsen’s office on April 15 to discuss the matter, she told them both that adoption was the primary reason she had visited the jail, she testified during the hearing, because Carlos’ living situation in Carthage had been so bleak. When ordered by Henningsen to write down her recollection of that day on paper, Davenport said last month that, upon reflection, she wrote the purpose of the trip was about obtaining a signed birth certificate for Carlos, and any adoption talk had been “incidental.”
Davenport, an eight-year R-9 employee, was later fired. Henningsen then placed Homa on administrative leave with pay because, as PAT director, he believed she had acted “immorally” for authorizing the jail trip for “improper purposes” in the first place.
School officials also felt she acted irresponsibly by not insisting a report be filed with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which is standard procedure when PAT members meet with their various parent clients.
Board members mentioned this “failure to follow state guidelines” as one of the primary reasons why they voted last Thursday to terminate Homa’s contract, stating her conduct “broke the trust between the (district’s) Parents As Teachers Program and the families it services” and that the function of the PAT program was not to “engage in social work.”
Homa said Thursday that nowhere in the prison transcript “is my name ever mentioned in the transcript. This happened back in 2007. I would challenge anyone to remember in detail everything they said on a particular date two years ago.”
While admitting she was surprised at Davenport’s repeated adoption references in the transcript, Homa still believes in her heart that Davenport’s primary purpose for the trip was for the good of Carlos.
“Laura and I had nothing to do with the incarceration of that mother, removing the custody of that child and we had nothing to do with the adoption of the child,” she said.
Only upon returning to Carthage did Davenport mention to Homa for the first time that adoption had cropped up in their jailhouse conversation.
“When a (PAT) parent-educator goes out to visit they do not tell their advisor everything they do,” Homa said. “They don’t take a recorder to tape every conversation and the supervisor has no idea what they talk about.”
As PAT director, Homa was responsible for about 1,000 cases, she said.
Yes, mistakes were made along the way, she has said on several occasions, but they had been “honest mistakes.”
As for her next step, “I have no idea what my next course of action will be. There are a lot of legal options I have out there that I can pursue. I’ll need to go over the findings of fact with my attorney, and then I’ll decide.”