When a teacher is accused of wrongdoing, he or she can become the subject of three investigations: one by the school system, one by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission and possibly another from law enforcement.
But though a judge rules on what evidence the jury hears in the courtroom, the school system’s standard is not as rigid.
“Anything you see that goes through the court cases, you are dealing with beyond a reasonable doubt. But as an educator, that perception in many cases can determine how effective you’re going to be able to be after that,” Gainesville Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams said.
Situations landing teachers in the “gray but more toward the negative side” might be hard for them to overcome, Williams said.
Gainesville and Hall school systems have recently handled situations involving teachers accused of crimes.
Karla Alvarez, 28, of Oakwood, submitted her resignation in lieu of termination in March after the Hall County Sheriff’s Office seized $6 million worth of cocaine and heroin. She was on unpaid leave from Chestatee Academy between March 17 and her resignation on March 27.
“She did voluntarily resign. There was quite a bit of pressure to do that,” Alvarez’s attorney, Rocky Remson, said.
Remson said they are still fighting the trafficking and possession with intent to distribute charges, and he anticipates having the case dismissed.
At Gainesville Middle School, Joshua Streetman, 25, was indicted last month on a charge of simple battery. The charge accuses Streetman of grabbing a student April 11 and intentionally making “physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature.” Streetman resigned July 27 before school was set to start.
Multiple calls to Streetman’s attorney Scott Tolbert were not returned.
“When you have a situation involving a teacher and a student, the investigation obviously begins very quickly. Our job is to make sure if there’s a danger or threat in place to keep that as safe as possible,” Williams said.
When an incident involving an employee is reported, Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said the school system’s human resources executive director, Brad Brown, is dispatched immediately to the school.
Brown said the principal will conduct the initial investigation that leads to a written report.
“There are times when we use internal people to do a little more investigation outside of the school, but it all depends on the situation,” he said.
There are several outcomes available, ranging from the teacher continuing at the school, up to termination. Between these options are the possibilities of suspension with or without pay and a letter of directive. Such a letter lays out what the teacher must do to retain a contract.
“We want to be transparent, but at the same time we have to protect both the accuser and the accused. That’s very important from a confidentiality standpoint, but also everybody is innocent until proven guilty,” Williams said.
Both school systems will often consult their counsel to make sure they stay “on the side of what is legal and right,” Schofield said.
When investigating, Williams said he and Chief Professional Services Officer Priscilla Collins will take the lead, getting both sides of the story, witnesses and any hearsay.
The most common result is resignation, Williams said, as it “lets the employee leave with some dignity in place.”
The investigation is also reported to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. Of the three possible investigations — school system, the standards commission and law enforcement — Williams said the school system will take the least amount of time while law enforcement lasts the longest.
The Georgia Professional Standards Commission has an online database showing if any actions have been taken against a teacher’s certification.
While balancing the rights of the accused and public perception, Williams said it is vital to keep a steady hand to keep the peace.
“If it’s something like in the case that does get some publicity, we want to pull that teacher as quickly just to keep other situations from escalating, whether that’s parent complaints, students testing a situation out,” he said.