The North Hall High School band director, who resigned just days before the end of the school year, left after school administrators confronted him for having an “inappropriate relationship” with a female student, according to Hall County Schools officials.
On Wednesday, Hall County Schools sent a letter to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission about the issue.
On May 10, North Hall Middle School band director Robert Dugan reported to his principal Bradley Brown that there was “inappropriate behavior” between Alan Keith Kirkland and a graduating senior. Later that afternoon, Brown contacted North Hall Principal Joe Gheesling, and early the next morning Gheesling called Richard Hill in the Hall County Human Resources Department.
Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield, Gheesling and Hill met with Kirkland on May 11, and “with little prompting,” he “acknowledged an inappropriate relationship and resigned effective immediately,” according to the letter.
Kirkland resigned for “personal reasons,” and school officials would not talk about the reason for his sudden leave right before the band’s spring concert held that weekend. Assistant band director Aaron Hughes and fine arts department chair Jan Ewing immediately took over the program and produced the show.
Kirkland and Hughes did not answer phone calls Monday.
“I first heard about it the evening before his resignation ... and just started asking preliminary questions. One thing led to another,” Gheesling said Monday afternoon. “I decided to go to Dr. Hill the next morning, and he and I started to investigate. The rest is history.”
Gheesling said he tried to move as quickly as possible once he heard the information.
“When this came up, we went post-haste, as fast as we could. The decision was made by 8 p.m. that night, but you have to make sure you have all your ducks in a row,” he said. “This is someone’s career, and you decide once you feel like there’s enough evidence.”
Hill contacted Kirkland’s ex-wife Ashley Kirkland, who told him by phone she found “thousands of text messages” between Kirkland and the student. Hill reported information that some students had “complained about preferential treatment and privileges” for the student.
Gheesling said he has received only positive calls from parents, who thanked him for moving quickly.
“They’ve said things like ‘Thank you for protecting our children,’ and ‘We know you had a hard decision,’” he said.
But The Times has received several angry phone calls from parents, most who wouldn’t talk on the record.
“Students are talking about it between themselves, but it hasn’t really gotten out to the parents yet,” Sonny Shelton, parent of a 2009 graduate, told The Times by phone. He’s met the student before and isn’t surprised that no one has come forward publicly.
“It’s a political thing, and they’re a tight-knit bunch of teachers and parents,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time before someone opens their mouth to talk, and I don’t mind talking because I live 500 miles away now.”
Gheesling said he didn’t think other teachers knew about the relationship.
“He’s in a different building all day long,” Gheesling said Monday. “He doesn’t really have to interact with the other teachers.”
Although some parents have called for Kirkland’s termination instead of resignation, Schofield said it’s just “playing with words.”
“He will no longer be working for our school district. We’ve ended our relationship and turned over any information about him,” he said Monday afternoon. “The net effect is the same.”
The Georgia Professional Standards Commission has not yet received the letter to open an investigation, said Gary Walker, ethics director for the commission, Monday afternoon. If the commission opens an investigation, the ethics committee could decide to revoke Kirkland’s teacher certification, which would prevent him from working at another school.
The investigation could take “a week to five years,” depending on the allegations, Walker said. Under the commission’s definitions, an “inappropriate relationship” could include anything from immature actions to sexual misconduct, he said.
Kirkland was the band director since 2004, and directed the marching band, symphonic band, jazz band and taught music theory.
The marching band and symphonic band have won superior ratings for performances during the past few years.
“There were allegations which didn’t appear consistent with what we expect of our professionals,” Schofield said. “People would like to hear that we fired him right away, but we dealt with it immediately and had a phone conversation with the PSC the day we heard about it.”
Gov. Sonny Perdue signed legislation on May 20 that more acutely defines how consent can be used in lawsuits regarding sexual relationships between teachers and students.
“Students can’t consent while in the restrictive mode of the classroom setting,” said 27th District State Rep. Doug Collins, who sponsored the bill. “I started hearing about cases all over the state and got calls from parents who couldn’t believe a student could have sex with a teacher, whether or not it was criminal.”
Collins acted on the heels of two Georgia cases — a female Gwinnett County teacher of the year resigned after admitting to a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old football player and a male former Cobb County orchestra teacher is awaiting trial for sexual assault and sodomy after admitting to a romantic relationship with a 17-year-old girl.
The final version of Collins’ legislation was attached to the new sex offender bill so it would be passed, he said.
“It’s a procedural issue and a defense issue that if a teacher is charged with something, consent should not be used as defense,” Collins said Monday. “The bright line for us is this is not something we feel is an appropriate action for various reasons, including the coercion in the classroom factor.”