As we also have said before, that needs to change, and soon. And so we are encouraged to note welcome signs of movement in that direction.
School Board member Kathleen Angelucci has proposed a number of revisions to the district’s disciplinary policy and unveiled them at the July 24 board meeting.
To start with, termination would be used a last resort, rather than what often seems to be the first resort.
Angelucci also is proposing among other things that the policy literally spell out that employees are presumed innocent until found guilty; that they be treated fairly and with dignity and in a professional manner during the investigative and disciplinary process; that polygraph tests be used only in rare circumstances; and that employees not be subject to retaliation for exercising their due process rights in the course of any investigation of them or disciplinary action against them.
It’s a sad day when a school system has to be reminded that fundamental constitutional rights apply there just as they do everywhere else — but then, few school systems have seemed so eager in recent years to “devour their own.”
Let’s start with the case of former Green Acres Elementary School teacher Greg Leontovich, who was abruptly fired in 2005 by the board after being falsely accused of molesting a 6-year-old girl at his school, despite the fact her teacher swore the girl had never left her classroom on that day and even though a hospital exam showed no signs of an assault. Leontovich finally was able to clear his name in 2008, but not until after spending 26 days in jail, losing his job, losing his profession, losing his reputation and losing his savings. And get this: Leontovich has been trying since 2008 to get his job back — and the District still won’t give him an interview.
More recently, Awtrey Middle School Principal Jeff Crawford, a 21-year educator, was accused of incompetency, insubordination and neglect of duty for not reporting a seventh-grader’s allegation that she was sexually assaulted off-campus by a schoolmate. And just as egregiously, Kell High School Principal Trudie Donovan was forced to retire under a cloud last year after three decades in the Cobb system for not reporting a former teacher had slapped a student’s backside and another’s face in the classroom.
But after virtually wrecking the careers of both of those principals, the district dropped the charges against the two.
And just 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 board) for not reporting a child had allegedly been molested and had attempted suicide. The two educators were kicked to the curb even though Collins had only heard the allegations second hand and Dority third-hand.
What did the Crawford, Donovan, Dority and Collins cases have in common? They all fell afoul of the state’s “failure to report” law, which makes it a firing offense for educators not to pass along hearsay — even though hearsay evidence is inadmissible in court.
So yes, there is overwhelming evidence that the Cobb School District needs to reconsider how it deals with those it accuses of wrongdoing.
The forced departures this spring of the system’s overzealous internal investigator and her top assistant were welcome steps. But it’s unfortunate that it has taken multiple miscarriages of justice — and very public ones at that — for the board to see that there is a problem. It’s also unfortunate the push for a remedy has had to originate with the board, rather than internally with Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa and his underlings.
Angelucci’s reform proposals appear to have the support of School Board Chairman Randy Scamihorn. They also have the support of local teacher advocacy group Educators First.
“This would dramatically increase the way employees are treated and should also increase employee morale,” said spokesman John Adams. “It’s a balanced approach and reasonable and it will treat people more fairly.”
We’re sure that there are bad apples in the Cobb School District, just like in every other profession. But they are far outnumbered by the good apples, and when those good apples stand accused of wrongdoing they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, not summarily cast aside as has so often been the case.