Alleged teacher-student altercations on Australia trip not investigated by GSCSS

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

Two employees of the Griffin-Spalding County School System (GSCSS) – Spalding High School Principal Lindy Pruitt and Kristie Hall, a Cowan Road Elementary School Pre-K teacher – were suspended for drinking alcoholic beverages in the presence of students while on a student trip to Australia. Elise Heaton, who resigned from the GSCSS following the Australia trip – is also accused of consuming alcohol in the presence of students.

Because she resigned following the trip, Heaton did not face internal disciplinary action.

The GSCSS did file complaints against Pruitt, Hall and Heaton with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.

Spalding High Data Assessment Specialist Rynn Goldstein, who organized the trip. received a letter of directive for failing to report the alleged Code of Ethics violation.

Not formally investigated were two separate alleged incidents of reported verbal altercations said to have involved Kristie Hall and a female student.

The GRIP has confirmed the altercations took place. Based on information from multiple sources, the altercations were unrelated to school, pertaining rather to the end of a teenage dating relationship. The GRIP sources described Hall’s altercation as a “verbal assault of that student,” “heated” and “extremely intense.”

The student reportedly became extremely emotionally distraught following both altercations that occurred on consecutive days. She was left weeping by the incidents.

Following a phone call with GSCSS Communication and Partnerships Executive Director Judy Parker, a series of emails pertaining to this issue was exchanged.

Parker initially stated, “There were no allegations by anyone that Kristie Hall used profanity toward anyone on the Australia trip so no investigation was held. The issue was never raised. Edna (sic) investigation focused on the ethical violation of drinking on the trip.”

The GRIP responded by asking, “So, no one from the Griffin-Spalding County School System was aware of this alleged altercation prior to my call today?

Parker responded, “During the investigation there were no allegations made against Kristie Hall for the use of profanity toward a student.”

The original question was reiterated, to which Parker responded, “We have turned over all our investigative documents from Australia to you.

“For clarification before I go to press, does your response mean you’re refusing to answer my question?” The GRIP responded.

“All investigations from Australia trip is in the packet you received under open records,” Parker said.

The GRIP then replied, “With all due respect, ma’am, that isn’t what I asked. Is it the school system’s position that prior to my initial call TODAY, NO GSCSS representative was aware of a verbal altercation that allegedly involved a teacher and student and reportedly occurred during the 2017 trip to Australia.
I acknowledge your repeated statement that the school system released the full Australia trip investigative file. However, I reiterate – that isn’t what I asked.
It’s a simple yes or no question. Are you refusing to answer that simple yes or no question?”

The following morning, Parker responded, “HR (Human Resources) did know of an altercation between Kristie Hall and a recently graduated student. Initial conversations did not lead to an investigation due to several factors including the former student’s refusal to be interviewed.”

Less than two hours later, Parker changed her statement to say, “Seems that student was out of town rather than refusing.”

Parker later returned a call from The GRIP. Below is a partial transcript of that interview. All responses made by Parker represent direct quotes.

Parker: We did the review, which we do. We begin to talk to people, but nothing in any of these – that any of these people we talked to – said was a violation of the Code of Ethics. It might have been bad judgment, but it wasn’t a violation of the Code of Ethics.

Parker: Then, we talked to the attorney, you know Harbin Hartley etc. and the attorney there concurred there was not a Code of Ethics violation.

Parker: Now, I’ve got one person who says the student refused and the other one said no, she was out of town. So, I’m unclear at this particular moment about why the student has not yet been talked to or was not talked to other than with the information that they had, and the conversations, there was really nothing to indicate that here had been any profanity, no pushing, no kind of abuse that would be a Code of Ethics violation.

The GRIP: If a teacher verbally attacks or verbally assaults a student, and the result is that the student is literally hysterical – is that emotionally distraught – you’re telling me the attorney said that’s not verbal abuse?”

Parker: I’m telling you what the attorney and HR people talked about and that’s what they told me. I don’t know and I didn’t witness who was verbal with who or any of that, so I cannot say that. I’m just telling you what the attorney said. Anything that came to light from the discussion they had with people led them to believe it was a case of abuse, a violation of the Code of Ethics and it would be the abuse one.

The GRIP: Standard 10 of the Code of Ethics: Professional Conduct – An educator shall demonstrate conduct that follows generally recognized professional standards and preserves the dignity and integrity of the education profession. Unethical conduct includes, but is not limited to, any conduct that impairs and/or diminishes the certificate holder’s ability to function professionally in his or her employment position, or behavior or conduct that is detrimental to the health, welfare, discipline or morals of students.

The GRIP: Does screaming at a student until the child is hysterical violate that?

Parker: Again, from the information that they received from the people that they interviewed, there was no indication that there was any violation of the Code of Ethics.

The GRIP: What would the GSCSS HR Department consider to be verbal abuse of a student?

Parker: Well, the examples that I was just given was profanity, as an example. There was no profanity and there was no hitting, but again, I’m telling you what the HR people and the attorney said, and that was that there was no, I mean, I guess it depends on what the witnesses said. That’s what it’s all based on.

The GRIP: So, basically what you’re saying is that if a teacher does not use profanity, they can say anything else they want to a student and that’s okay.

Parker: No, I’m not saying that.

The GRIP: Well, if profanity is the litmus test for whether a teacher is verbally abusive…..

Parker: No, I said that the witnesses said that there was no indication of physical abuse or profanity. Those were the two examples that she gave right then talking about this topic.

The GRIP: So, then my question becomes the witnesses – the people who were interviewed – how did they describe the verbal altercation?

Parker: Well, that is not a public record. This was conversations. There’s no written record, and that’s not something I can tell you, and I don’t have it.

The GRIP: You referred to them as interviews. An interview is not a conversation.

Parker: Well, it was a conversation. It was a preliminary conversation that could or could not lead to an investigation. After she talked with the attorney, then there was going to be no investigation because they didn’t have any information in these conversations.

The GRIP: So, none of the people who were interviewed as part of this official review…

Parker: Gave any information that indicated this should be a full-blown investigation because there was a violation of the Code of Ethics.

The GRIP: So, none of them indicated that Kristie Hall demonstrated conduct that failed to follow generally-recognized professional standards?

Parker: Right.

The GRIP: So, her screaming at that student – her screaming at that student until that child was hysterical – according to Human Resources, was okay?

Parker: No, you’re just putting words in our mouths.

The GRIP: No. Okay, well, then I need you to explain to me. If it was not okay, then why was there no disciplinary action?

Parker: No, I don’t. But see, you’re going on the supposition that was what the witnesses told – or the people that were talked told.

The GRIP: Well, that’s why I asked you how did those witnesses describe the altercation.

Parker: Well, and that is an employee issue and we are not going to go into that. It’s not a public record. We stand by our statement that HR talked with people and in conference with an attorney determined that there was not any violation of the Code of Ethics and would therefore not deem a full investigation.

The GRIP: During the course of these interviews that were conducted as part of this official review process, were Griffin-Spalding County School System officials told that the student was emotionally distraught?

Parker: I do not know. I cannot tell you that. I don’t know the answer to that.

The GRIP: So, none of this was documented?

Parker: None of these investigative things – until it’s finalized and goes to the PSC and all that – they’re not public records.

Parker concluded, “Well, you have our statement.”

The first altercation occurred during a rest stop on a travel day as the group was being transported through Australia by bus.

The second altercation occurred on a catamaran trip during which Hall has admitted she consumed alcohol.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: