Cobb educators face a presumption of guilt
April 11, 2013 12:00 AM | 3296 views | 12 12 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
To the list of most dangerous jobs in our community (police officer, firefighter, etc.) it is time to add another: Cobb County educator. It’s hard to say otherwise after a dismaying string of cases that have seen the Cobb School District chew up and spit out some of its most capable personnel on the flimsiest of pretexts.

State law requires school employees (and volunteers at schools) to report suspected abuse of children within 24 hours of hearing about it. Those found guilty can be fined up to $1,000 and jailed for a year, even if it turns out that the alleged assault that sparked a case never actually happened. And to its discredit, the Cobb school board has been overzealous in enforcing that law.

The latest such unintended Cobb victim is now-retired Kell High School principal Trudie Donovan. Her acclaimed career essentially ended after she quickly was charged with failure to report to higher-ups that Kell teacher James C. Brigham had slapped one student’s buttocks and another in the face while in class last year.

But guess what? As reported in Monday’s MDJ, the Cobb Solicitor’s Office now has decided to drop the charge against her due to lack of evidence.

“After an extensive investigation, the state is unable to pursue this charge due to lack of facts or supporting evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant violated the ‘willfully and knowingly’ portion of (the mandatory reporting law),” Assistant Solicitor General Latonia Hines wrote.

And three months before Donovan retired, Dr. Jerry Dority, a 28-year educator and principal at Tapp Middle School, and counselor Yatta Collins were charged (and later fired by the school board) for failure to report that a child allegedly had been molested and had attempted suicide. Collins had heard the allegations second hand and Dority third-hand. Hearsay evidence is inadmissible in U.S. courtrooms; but failure to report hearsay allegations is now a fireable offense in Cobb, and we suspect other parts of Georgia as well.

Meanwhile, Awtrey Middle School principal Jeff Crawford is the latest educator to get snared. He failed to report hearing of an alleged off-campus sexual assault involving two students. The Cobb School District apparently has decided to “go easy” on Crawford. It did not file criminal charges, but is trying to suspend him for a day without pay and plans to haul him in for e a disciplinary hearing next month. He contends he did nothing wrong and is fighting what would be an undeserved blot on his reputation.

And in an even more troubling case that didn’t involve the 24-hour reporting law, but amply demonstrates the Cobb School District’s “fire ’em first; ask questions later” approach, standout Cobb elementary teacher Gregory Leontovich was fired by a prior incarnation of the Cobb school board in 2005 for supposedly sexually assaulting a 6-year-old student — even though her teacher swore the girl had never left her classroom on the day in question and even though a hospital exam showed no signs of an assault. It was her word against his, and that was good enough for the board.

Leontovich eventually cleared his name in 2008 (with the help of a Cobb Superior Court jury, and after spending 26 days in jail), but lost his job, his profession, his reputation and his savings in order to do so.

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SO TO RECAP, neither Donovan nor Dority nor Collins nor Crawford are accused of actually abusing anyone. Yet all have become high-profile victims of a well-intended but flawed law, their names and careers in tatters or tarnished.

“For this to have fallen on (Donovan) the way it did was just a tragedy, and unfortunately things are going to have to happen to prevent this from occurring (again),” retired Cobb assistant superintendent Dr. Stanley Wrinkle told the MDJ.

“This just changed a person’s life,” he said. “There is no telling how much money she spent (defending herself), but to treat someone like a common criminal is beyond words of horror.”

That goes for the others accused as well.

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POLICE OFFICERS who shoot someone in the line of duty typically are put on desk duty, with pay, until the matter is resolved.

Someone accused of sexual assault in cases like the ones cited above is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Cobb educators, however, are presumed guilty unless they can somehow prove their innocence.

That is wrong and needs to change. The Cobb school board needs to challenge Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa and the Central Office to re-evaluate how they apply the law in question in order to prevent more valued educators from becoming casualties.

Comments
(12)
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Headcheerleader1971
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April 12, 2013
If you investigate further, you'll find other cases like the ones cited in the article that have torn up the lives of others. It's a shame to give all you have to the students only to be brought down by the ones who should hold you up.
Watcher...
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April 11, 2013
MDJ,

Please interview Hinojosa on this issue.

He is responsible for these actions.
more attorneys fees
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April 11, 2013
I'd like to know how much money is budgeted for the "investigation managers" whose sole mission is to destroy Cobb educators' careers. Do those positions ever get cut? You forgot to mention the former counselor at Lassiter HS who wasn't fired by the board and was found not guilty at a criminal trial. He lost his job anyway because Cobb HR filed an action against his certificate after the board found no evidence to fire him.
Only in Cobb
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April 11, 2013
And, why is Cobb the only district taking this ridiculously draconian approach? Cobb seems to have more of these cases than all the other metro districts put together! MDJ, please get the data to compare Cobb with other metro districts.
Laura Armstrong
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April 11, 2013
Beyond excellent editorial. Someone (Cobb School Board members) needs to take a long look at the department and/or personnel who is making these Machiavellian decisions about our dedicated educators. The atmosphere must be incredibly stressful for them.
Brian Griffin
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April 11, 2013
Not as stressful as working in the Transportation Dept.
Cobb School Advocate
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April 11, 2013
Amen

Flush out the Human Resources Department !
Wha...
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April 18, 2013
Oh, please! CCSD has a school board member who voted for a school calendar change just so all his grandkids would be on break at the same time.

Do you really think these people have two brain cells to rub together let alone the moral character to actually stand up to tough issues? The actions the board/superintendent have taken were likely engineered to avoid conflict.

Run school board! Run!
Watcher...
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April 11, 2013
"The Cobb school board needs to challenge Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa and the

Central Office..."

The MDJ is correct in this comment! The CCSD Board needs to act like a Board of Directors!

They probably fear that the Superintendent will run to SACS, for cover, and claim "Board interference."
Thank you!
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April 11, 2013
For all the administrators and teachers in Cobb County, thank you!! The atmosphere from Glover Street has made our jobs even more difficult. Maybe, with this; it will begint to change. Thank you!!
Be Careful
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April 11, 2013
Teachers are not police officers or detectives. Requiring to report within 24 hours is insane. What kind of evidence can a teacher gather in 24 hours after hearing a rumor?

And certainly, what happens off campus between kids is non of the school systems business, period.

Teachers should be teaching our kids.

Parents should take care of everything else.

I am shocked that the Cobb School Board goes against the entier US legal system by assuming guilt from the outset. Why haven't some of there wronged educators sued that pants off the board for ruining their lives needlessly??
Careful Be
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April 18, 2013
You have to realize that the education system in this country, not just Georgia, doesn't follow the same rules as the rest of society.

Would a kid who bit a pop-tart into a gun shape have gotten in trouble anywhere else but in a school?

While there are many, many excellent educators there are, unfortunately, a large number of people who have the wrong mindset, wrong approach and wrong morals to be teaching our kids. Or, for that matter, leading the school systems that teach our kids.

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