- By Amanda C. Coyne The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
In the past month, four teachers at Gwinnett County schools have been accused of sexually assaulting students.
Allegations in police reports and warrants include molestation, groping, rape and a two-and-a-half year sexual relationship. The question looming as the end of the school year nears: Could anything have been done to prevent this?
The four teachers, three of whom taught at Gwinnett County public schools and one who taught at private Providence Christian Academy, are a small minority of the district’s and schools’ faculty. Gwinnett County Public Schools employs 12,000 teachers and Providence Christian Academy, a K-12 school in Lilburn, employs 79.
Gwinnett County Public Schools has a stringent background check process each potential teacher goes through before they’re hired, including:
The PSC record check ensures that the district is aware of any previous formal ethics complaints filed against an educator. Previous ethics complaints that have been found to have no probable cause are expunged from a teacher’s record, said John Grant, the PSC’s chief investigator.
Three of the four teachers arrested — Michael Henderson, Villie Jones and Ronnie Jackson — are certified with the PSC. Derren Evans, a former long-term substitute teacher at Providence Christian Academy, is not certified with the commission. While the vast majority of public school teachers are required to be certified with the PSC, private and religious schools including Providence Christian Academy can waive that requirement.
Providence Christian Academy teachers are generally certified through organizations including the Southern Association of College and Schools and the Association of Christian Schools International instead of PSC, spokesman Stephen Daniels said. Its private school status also means it does not have access to the GBI and FBI background checks that Gwinnett County Public Schools does.
Providence uses an employee screening company called Praesidium in their pre-employment background checks. That service’s background check includes searches of:
All four teachers charged with sexual assault this month passed the required background checks for their jobs. Nothing found by officials at Gwinnett County Public Schools or Providence Christian Academy during the hiring process caused concern.
Required ethics training and new teacher training in Gwinnett County also cover what constitutes an inappropriate student-teacher relationship, sexual assault abuse and harassment. Ethics “reminders” pop up on teachers’ web portal home screens every day, Bernard Watson, spokesman for the county school system said.
Under Georgia law, all teachers and school personnel, including those in Gwinnett County, are required to tell law enforcement if they have “reasonable cause to believe child abuse has occurred.”
“No matter how many background checks you do, no matter how many times you train teachers, I don’t know of a way to stop somebody who has an intention of doing wrong or making poor decisions,” Watson said.
During the 2015-2016 school year, four GCPS teachers were arrested and charged with sexual crimes involving students. The allegations against the educators included molestation and inappropriate sexual relationships.
“We are doing everything we can to prevent something like this happening again.”
Providence Christian Academy provides both “all staff” and divisional annual training that covers topics including “signs of abuse, how to protect children from abuse, and how to protect themselves,” Daniels, the academy’s spokesman, said. Teachers, staff and volunteers are also given annual training on their responsibilities as mandatory reporters of abuse.
While Providence Christian Academy does not have a social media policy detailing how teachers should handle contact with students, the school advises teachers to “be wise” in their interactions with students, Head of School Sean Chapman said.
Evans, the Providence substitute teacher, asked a student to send him nude photos on Snapchat.
While criminal cases against Henderson, Jones and Jackson work their way through the court system, their futures in the classroom are up to the Professional Standards Commission. Because Evans was never certified as a teacher, there is no certification for the commission to revoke.
Teaching certifications are not automatically suspended upon a teacher’s arrest, but when educators are charged with a crime, their schools must file an ethics complaint against them within 90 days, Grant, the PSC chief investigator said. Those complaints are investigated, and investigations must be completed 60 days after they begin.
If the teacher is found to be in violation of the PSC’s code of ethics, a punishment is handed down. That is almost always a revocation of the teacher’s certification when the case involves sexual contact with a student, Grant said. When the certification is revoked, a teacher cannot move to another state and get certified there, and their violation is reported to a national certification agency.
Teachers whose certification is revoked can petition to reapply after three years, but Grant said it is very rare for the commission to grant that petition.
“I only know of two occasions when they’ve been granted permission to reapply for certification, and I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” Grant said.
The Gwinnett County teachers charged with sexual assault in May are:
Jackson is free on $22,200 bond. Evans, Jones and Henderson are being held without bond.
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