I-TEAM: Family calls for former homecoming queen's ban to be lifted

Dispute resulted in Charlton County grad being banned for life from high school

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter, Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects, Eric Wallace - Senior Producer, I-TEAM

FOLKSTON, Ga. - People gathered Tuesday night at the Charlton County Board of Education to call for the reversal of a ban against a Charlton County High School graduate.

Chaquoya Brown, who was the 2016 Charlton County High homecoming queen, was banned from her high school for life for what she said was an unjustified reason. 

Brown and her family blame small-town politics for what they believe is an unfair punishment.

The battle began in August 2017. The family said Chaquoya, a recent graduate, stopped by the campus during lunch as a visitor to see her sister and say goodbye to friends before she left for college. However, they said Assistant Principal Josh Popham told Chaquoya she had to leave and could not return until after school was over. 

Chaquoya said she left campus and returned after school as instructed, but said Popham called her over to him and then accused her of mouthing off to him earlier in the day.

Chaquoya admitted that while she was a student, she had a few disagreements with Popham. She said to protect herself this time, she recorded audio on her cellphone. In Georgia, one-party consent is legal for audio recordings. 

Chaquoya Brown: You told me after school hours. 

Popham: Yes, but then you got mouthy with me when you were leaving so you can go. Like right now you got to get in your car. 

Popham: Did you hear me? 

(School bell rings) 

Brown: I'm going to stay right here because you told me after school hours. 

Next, someone from the school called the Folkston police. 

Brown also recorded part of her conversation with the officer who arrived. 

Officer: You gotta go. 

Brown: Okay. 

Officer: If you don't leave, you're going to jail for criminal trespassing. 

Brown: Say what? 

Officer: If you don't leave, you're going to jail for criminal trespassing. 

Brown: Come on! 

Brown said her comment "come on" was directed at her sister, whom she was picking up from school. 

Everyone involved agreed Brown then left the school. The next day, police served her with a criminal trespass warning. 

The enforcement of the trespass means she could be arrested at any point for walking back on school property. She said the Charlton County School System had to grant her a one-night reprieve last fall so she could come back and crown the next homecoming queen.

Brown said she's worried about moving back home after college, eventually raising a family and not being allowed on school property.

Her parents want their daughter's lifetime ban from the high school lifted immediately. Her father, Charles Brown, said he blames the extreme punishment on the assistant principal's bruised ego.

"It's a misunderstanding that a bunch of egos got involved," he told News4Jax on Tuesday. "Now, nobody wants to be made out to be the little guy or the guy that's wrong."

The family was disappointed to learn that no one was allowed to address the board at the public meeting Tuesday evening. 

The attorney for the School Board said the reason was letters from the principal, which revealed threats of violence made against school employees.  The board said no one can comment until they investigate the threats. 

"I feel like we are being held accountable for threats. We have nothing to do with any threats," said the former homecoming queen's mother, Maria Brown. "We haven't made threats, as stated in the meeting. We haven't made threats to anyone."

Brown's parents said the school district didn't thoroughly investigate the issue. Her pastor said the lifetime ban was unjust.

"It's a problem in this county because of the fact it's a buddy-buddy system," Pastor Bobby Roberson said. "They're looking out for each other as a buddy."

Since the ban wasn't discussed at the meeting, the members of the Brown family said they plan to attend the next meeting in June. They added that they plan on filing paperwork to make sure they can be heard.

The Charlton County School System disputes any accusations of harsh treatment, saying that school safety is its primary concern.

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