Former Assistant Superintendent Stanley Wrinkle was barred from speaking before the Cobb Board of Education on Wednesday in defense of a teacher who had been wrongly accused of molesting a student.
Wrinkle, who retired from Cobb Schools in 1994 after serving as an assistant superintendent for 18 years, showed up to speak to the board Wednesday during the public comment portion of the meeting about former Green Acres Elementary School teacher Greg Leontovich, who was falsely accused of molesting a 6-year-old girl at the Smyrna school.
Yet Wrinkle was barred from speaking by board attorney Clem Doyle, who said it was related to a “personnel matter.”
Sitting in the audience, Wrinkle tried to attract Board Chair Randy Scamihorn’s attention to be recognized to speak, but was ignored.
Wrinkle said after his brush off that he wanted to request the school district to at least reconsider allowing Leontovich to interview for a position. Wrinkle also wanted the board to consider the 2005 vote to fire Leontovich on molestation allegations.
Yet Scamihorn said after the meeting he wasn’t sure if the board has the ability to rescind a vote made by a previous board. “I do know from a board’s perspective though, that we do not want to set a precedent that could be used as a crutch on something like this,” Scamihorn said. “That’s a big danger, heart strings or not.” The Leontovich case is one in a string of recent cases in which Cobb School District educators have been fired for alleged wrongdoing but ultimately had the charges against them dropped. The Cobb solicitor general’s office had dismissed similar charges against former Kell High School Principal Trudie Donovan, who saw her career end under a cloud after 34 years spent educating Cobb’s children when she was booked in the Cobb County Jail. Her alleged mistake was her failure to report that a former teacher had slapped a student’s backside and another student’s face while in the classroom. But the solicitor determined there was insufficient evidence to prove she had “willfully and knowingly” failed to promptly report the information.
Leontovich, now 56, was arrested Sept. 15, 2005, and charged with aggravated child molestation and aggravated sexual battery. He then spent 26 days in the Cobb County Jail. On Oct. 11, 2005, he received a termination letter from the Cobb School District on these allegations, followed by a termination hearing presided over by board members Kathie Johnstone, Betty Gray and Curt Johnston — who made the decision to fire him.
That decision was upheld by the full board on Dec. 8, 2005, with a 6-0-1 vote. Former board member Laura Searcy recused herself because she served on the board of the child abuse investigation agency SafePath, which looked into the matter.
Other board members at that time were Teresa Plenge, Betty Gray, Lindsey Tippins and Johnny Johnson.
According to a Dec. 9, 2005 MDJ article, Johnstone did leave a window open for Leontovich after the vote when she said that the board reserves the right to revisit the matter once the legal issues of the case are resolved.
Johnstone also said in that article that in no way does the board’s decision mean to imply guilt or innocence, simply that he had abandoned his job due to the bond restrictions.
Leontovich’s case went to trial on March 3, 2008, before Cobb Judge Frank Cox in Cobb County Superior Court and one week later Cox dismissed the aggravated child molestation charge.
A jury found him not guilty on the aggravated sexual battery charge.
Leontovich never lost his professional teaching license and in the meantime has worked part-time at Kennesaw State University and Georgia State University in each college’s Department of Childhood Education, supervising student teachers in schools throughout metro Atlanta.
During the 2011-2012 school year he even supervised student teachers in Cobb County schools.
“The college work is interesting, but it’s very little money and it’s part time,” Leontovich said Wednesday afternoon. “I’m just looking for an opportunity to interview with a principal and let them decide whether or not to hire me.”
Prior to his dismissal from Cobb, he had worked in the county system for 13-plus years.
And if they won’t let him interview, Leontovich said he wished the district would at least respond to his applications.
“If they would just say this is over, then I won’t apply there anymore, but right now I apply and don’t hear anything,” he said. “They never disqualify me.”
Knowing that no wrongdoing was ever done, Wrinkle introduced himself to Leontovich and has been trying to help him get his record cleared with Cobb Schools.
“We have been trying to accomplish something of fairness and justice for Mr. Leontovich for a year now,” Wrinkle said. “And the answer has always been the same, ‘no.’” He has met with Cobb’s Director of Human Resources Michael Shanahan and Superintendent Michael Hinojosa to see if it’d be possible for the district to let Leontovich at least interview for a job and possibly rescind the hearing decision.
Wrinkle was told by both men that the district would not be able to do that and Hinojosa specifically told him that their decision was based on the fact that Leontovich pled the 5th during his termination hearing.
“He knew he was an innocent man but his attorney advised him to plead the 5th,” Wrinkle said.
Wrinkle said the district’s denial to rescind the termination is like a nail in the coffin for Leontovich because every time he applies for a job he has to check a box on an application admitting to being dismissed from an employer.
“If you say ‘yes’ to that in a school district anywhere around here, you’re virtually toast at that point,” he said.
And while Wrinkle wasn’t able to speak to the board about his concerns, he did submit a 14-page appeal letter to the board and district.
According to district policy, the district must respond to Wrinkle within 30 days.
Others also feeling wronged
False allegations have resulted in the early retirement, firing and near suspension of a handful of other Cobb School District educators in recent years.
Donovan, who resigned in 2012 after 34 years with Cobb, was accused of knowing that former Kell teacher James Chadwick Brigham slapped a student’s buttocks and another student in the face in his classroom last May.
Criminal charges against her were dismissed March 27 by the Cobb Solicitor General’s Office.
Brigham was arrested on felony sexual battery and two counts of simple battery. According to Cobb County State Court documents, the single charge against Donovan was dismissed when the state determined the case lacked sufficient evidence to prosecute. “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 on the document.
It was signed by Cobb State Court Judge Kathryn Tanksley. Failure to report allegations against Awtrey Middle School Principal Jeff Crawford were dismissed in early May by the Cobb County School District.
Crawford, a 21-year educator with 14 years of experience as an administrator, was accused of incompetency, insubordination and willful neglect of duties for failure to report a female student’s allegation of rape.
The school district also faulted Crawford for not returning to school Jan. 18 following a meeting regarding the accusations.
Crawford was scheduled to appear at a hearing for his appeal against his suspension on May 14 but it was canceled. Frank Robinson, a former Lassiter High School guidance counselor and basketball coach, was accused of inappropriately touching a 17-year-old student in 2009.
He was acquitted on all charges last February after being charged with two counts each of misdemeanor sexual battery and simple battery Dec. 19, 2009. Jurors found him not guilty.
Robinson was reassigned to Kennesaw Mountain High after the accusations because his bond condition did not allow him to return to work at his old school.
Additionally, the school board voted 4-2 to reinstate him after a tribunal of three school board members, with one member dissenting, found insufficient evidence to fire Robinson in February 2010.
However, his professional teaching license was pulled, following a letter from the school district.
Robinson left Kennesaw Mountain in spring 2011. He was a counselor for about 11 years and was at Lassiter for six years before the reported assault.