The day after a teacher who reportedly had mental health issues was accused of barricading himself in a classroom with a gun and firing a shot, Dalton school district officials sought to ease student concerns and reassure the public that they work to ensure all teachers are medically cleared to be in the classroom.
No one was hurt in the Wednesday incident at Dalton High, but the situation prompted school officials to cancel classes Thursday. School will reopen Friday, with additional police, counselors and faith-based leaders on hand to protect and comfort students and faculty.
Twice since March 2016, Dalton police responded to calls about the teacher, Jesse Randal Davidson, 53.
Dalton school officials said they were aware of those incidents.
In March 2016, a Dalton Police Department report says, he told police a bizarre story about tangential involvement in a murder. Police couldn’t confirm either the story or the existence of the alleged victim, and concluded that he may have been “delusional or have something else that had occurred that is causing him to have these thoughts.” They took him to the hospital because he was “thinking about harming himself.” Davidson told police he was on several medications for depression, the report said.
Then, in January 2017, he told a supervisor he felt ill and left the school. Police were called and a search ensued because he hadn’t driven to work that day and had called his son to pick him up, but he was gone when the son arrived, the police report said. He was found at a nearby intersection, in no obvious physical distress yet incommunicative: “No amount of stimulus would draw a response from him,” the officer wrote in the report. An ambulance took Davidson, a social studies teacher, to the hospital.
The school officials said while they could not discuss any employee’s medical history, they followed specific state regulations to ensure all teachers recently hospitalized or who have medical issues have been approved to be in school.
“We would not allow someone to work who was not able to work. We were confident that Mr. Davidson was fit,” said school district communications director Pat Holloway.
“And that applies to physical, emotional, mental things as well,” said interim Dalton Superintendent Don Amonett.
Glenn Brock, a prominent school board attorney who is not affiliated with Dalton, said teachers have rights, and that school officials would have to respect them if concerns arise about emotional stability.
The district could ask for a medical release before allowing a teacher back in the classroom, but the teacher could refuse, saying incidents outside the school had no bearing on the workplace.
Then, the district would have to decide whether it wanted to pursue dismissal.
The teacher would have the right to a tribunal process and could appeal a firing to the state courts and, if successful, ultimately get the job back, along with back pay and lawyer fees. The teacher could also sue the district under federal law, since there are a variety of employee protections against things such as discrimination.
There could be mitigating circumstances, and a prudent district would explore them before taking any action, Brock said.
“His best friend could have just gotten killed or his parent could have died. These things happen.” He said it’s a rare workplace that doesn’t have employees with emotional issues.
Dalton High, located near the Tennessee border and about 90 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta, has about 1,900 students. Some showed support Thursday by bringing food to the school. A Krystal restaurant had a sign that read “We love you DHS.”
Wednesday’s incident comes amid heightened concerns nationwide about school safety after 14 students and three adults were gunned down at a Florida high school.
Davidson, a popular teacher among some, was being held at the Whitfield County Jail on a variety of charges, including terroristic threats, aggravated assault and disrupting a public school. An attorney representing Davidson could not be reached for comment Thursday. A court hearing is scheduled Tuesday.
Jennifer Stafford, who does substitute teaching at Dalton High, believes school leaders “probably did the right thing” in how they responded to the prior incidents involving Davidson.
She said Wednesday’s incident was scary particularly after police investigated a handwritten threat found inside the school last week. Police say the threat is unrelated to Wednesday’s incident.
“It’s very concerning because we think teachers are the ones students come to for protection,” she said of the charges against Davidson.