Former Statesboro High School principal Dr. Martin "Marty" Waters, who in May had his teaching certificate restored after a retroactive one-year suspension in a settlement with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, began work last week as interim superintendent of schools in Evans County.
He fills in following the June 30 retirement of Dr. Joy Collins, who concluded a 27-year career as an educator with eight years as superintendent, until the Evans County Board of Education selects a permanent superintendent. Waters may be considered for that job but has not been promised it, and the board has received a separate pool of applicants through a search conducted through the Georgia School Boards Association.
Waters worked with Collins beginning June 27 and took the reins July 1. The system consists of three schools, all in Claxton, enrolling about 1,850 students.
"I'm very excited. There are a lot of great people over here in Evans County, and I'm looking forward to building on what Dr. Collins has done here," Waters said in a phone interview.
For two years after his resignation as SHS principal, Waters stayed away from school work. His resignation followed his May 9, 2014, arrest by Statesboro police on a later-dismissed misdemeanor charge of failure to report child abuse in the case of Jeffrey Tyler Crowder, then 25, who was a paraprofessional soccer coach at Statesboro High accused of having sex with a 16-year-old female student.
Police arrested Crowder on April 30, 2014, on a sexual assault charge. He was indicted on two charges but in February 2015 made a negotiated guilty plea, with first-offender status, to one count of first-degree child cruelty. He served 15 months in a probation detention center and will be on probation for the remainder of 10 years. Crowder now appears on the Georgia Sex Offender Registry, which was also part of his plea deal. Banished from the Ogeechee Circuit, he registered in Muscogee County.
Bulloch County State Court Judge Gary Mikell dismissed the failure-to-report charge against Waters on Jan. 5, 2015, on the recommendation of county Solicitor-General Joey Cowart, who said there was not enough evidence for a conviction. Waters' attorney, Daniel Snipes, called Georgia's required reporting law "poorly drafted" with confusing standards of when reports are required and what to do when rumors are involved.
The law requires principals or other educators to report to the Department of Family and Children Services or law enforcement within 24 hours when there is "reasonable cause to believe that suspected child abuse has occurred."
Separate PSC process
The Professional Standards Commission, or PSC, board twice voted to revoke Waters' certificate as a public school educator. But Waters appealed both actions, and the revocation never took effect.
Under the terms of the consent order Waters signed with PSC officials in April 2016, the one-year retroactive suspension began July 1, 2014, and ended June 30, 2015.
Negotiated by the Georgia attorney general's office, the settlement covered two complaints that Waters failed to make timely reports.
As the Statesboro Herald learned in a May 13 call to PSC ethics director Dr. Paul Shaw, the second complaint had nothing to do with child abuse.
The settlement was approved by the PSC board May 12, but the newspaper sought further documentation while Waters was concluding a campaign to be judge of the Bulloch County Probate Court. Waters came in third among five candidates in the May 24 nonpartisan general election.
Last week, Waters said he is pleased to return to education.
"This is what I believe my calling is, and my expertise lies in education, so I'm glad to be back in it," he said.
Asked if he has been exonerated by the processes since his SHS resignation, Waters said that he was exonerated on the criminal-court side.
"I was not ecstatic about the PSC decision, but my family and I came to the point that we needed resolution on it so that we could move forward, and that was the reason we agreed to the consent order," Waters said.
The order reports "findings of fact," presenting two sides on each of the two complaints. But other than acknowledging the PSC's authority to act against Waters' certificate, "the parties agree to waive any further conclusions of law."
The order requires Waters to "always answer affirmatively to the question on Commission applications regarding having been suspended."
The second complaint involved a report that, while Waters was principal at Statesboro High, his "son was accused of bringing a controlled substance to school and sharing it with a classmate." Waters "allegedly failed to make a required report of the incident to the school superintendent or to law enforcement since the assistant principals' investigation was unable to substantiate the allegations," the consent order states.
However, the order also acknowledges that Waters "states that he relied on his assistant principals to conduct an unbiased investigation of the incident and take appropriate action, and that he remained uninvolved in order to avoid influencing the investigation."
A probable cause report completed by PSC investigator Eddie Nix stated that one SHS assistant principal told another that, on April 25, 2014, a student had taken several hydrocodone pills the principal's son gave him. But elsewhere in the report, only "a pill" is described, and the student who received it told a law enforcement investigator that the student who gave it to him first said it was hydrocodone but later said that it was Tylenol PM.
When law enforcement learned of the incident, "they were unable to move forward with a criminal prosecution due to the lack of physical evidence caused by the way the school investigation was handled," Nix wrote in the complaint portion of his report.
Last week, Waters said that the medication was not a controlled substance or prescription drug but "an allergy tablet, Tylenol Sinus-Allergy."
Bulloch County Schools officials did not provide information on this incident to the PSC until February 2015, more than half a year after Waters was no longer principal at SHS, and after the criminal charge against him stemming from the Crowder incident was dismissed in State Court in early January.
"It was reported about seven weeks after my case was dismissed from the criminal court in Bulloch County," Waters said last week. "So it had the appearance that it was something that had sat dormant for an entire year. There's evidence to show that the Police Department and the Board of Education were aware of it at the time, in 2014, but for some reason, the superintendent did not decide to report it to PSC till a year later."
A detailed review of the dismissed charge against Waters appeared in the May 24, 2015, issue of the Statesboro Herald. It included a statement by Waters' attorney, Dan Snipes, that Waters was caught up in a "rush to judgment" resulting from the Crowder case, but also the opinion of Statesboro Police Maj. Rob Bryan, now interim police chief, that police had sufficient evidence to press the charge.
Dr. Kevin Judy, then Bulloch County Schools assistant superintendent for human resources, told two Statesboro police detectives, in a documented interview, that Waters called him March 25 and told him he had heard rumors of some "inappropriate remarks." Judy has since gone on to be superintendent in Emanuel County.
An SHS counselor gave police a written statement that three counselors and one teacher met with Waters on March 25, 2014, and told him about statements that Crowder had sex with a student. But in his report to the state certification board, PSC investigator David Pumphrey stated that the information was not reported to the police until April 25.
Police believe, however, that during the March 25 meeting, Waters was given reasonable cause that Crowder was in an abusive relationship with the student and, therefore, was required by statute, as a mandatory reporter, to report within 24 hours the abuse to his superiors or the Department of Children and Family Services or the police. Because he did not meet that responsibility, he appeared to be in violation of the statute and guilty of the misdemeanor of failure to report child abuse, Bryan said in 2015.
Bryan said Judy and all other school system administrators were investigated as to when they became aware of Crowder's actions, and only Waters was arrested.
On March 25, 2014, Waters said he immediately made a call to Judy concerning reports of an "inappropriate relationship."
"The term that was given to me was an 'inappropriate relationship,' and I was directed to substantiate that claim, and that's what we attempted to do," Waters said last week.
He said he made several attempts "to corroborate the rumors that were given to us" but that the student by then had not been in school for nearly 60 days, and neither the child nor her parent would return phone calls.
"I was told to address the employee (Crowder), which I did," Waters said. "The employee denied everything; there was no substance from that standpoint, so there was no evidence or no firsthand witnesses for us to substantiate the rumors."
Asked if he would do anything differently in a similar situation in the future, he said: "That's a difficult question to answer. I think we reported the information I had immediately to my superiors, so I would make sure that there were clear lines of communication established in that process. I think the law is still very ambiguous about rumors and even about timely reporting."
Evans board informed
Waters informed the Evans County Board of Education of the suspension and of both complaints, as both retiring Superintendent Collins and a board member confirmed.
Collins said she and the board were not concerned about it.
"He's got a pretty good record there, and he's an expert on Professional Learning Communities, and we need that here at our high school, we're working on that," she said. "I think he'll do a great job."
Professional Learning Communities are teacher teams that monitor students' progress and plan instruction. Waters helped implement them at SHS.
Evans County District 4 school board member Job Gutierrez said that board Chairman David Greene and the board's attorney reported on Waters' situation, including the suspension.
"All of that was discussed with us, and he was up-front about everything, and our lawyer verified everything," Gutierrez said.
Board members, he said, "felt confident that he was the right person for the job right now" but did not guarantee him the permanent job.
Waters said he is serving on an as-needed basis and did not apply through the Georgia School Boards Association but directly to the Evans County school system. The Claxton Enterprise reported that the board received a list of 28 applicants for superintendent.
Wilson responds on district's belated second complaint
Seven weeks after a misdemeanor failure-to-report child abuse charge was dismissed, and more than half a year after Dr. Martin "Marty" Waters was no longer Statesboro High School's principal, Bulloch County school system officials reported a second complaint against him to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.
Unrelated to the child abuse incident, the second complaint, an allegation that Waters did not properly report an allegation that his son brought pills to school and gave them to another student, did not result in any criminal charges. Witness statements varied over whether the pills were the prescription painkiller hydrocodone or a form of nonprescription Tylenol. By the time it was reported to the PSC, the April 2014 incident was 10 months past.
Noting that the second complaint wasn't filed until after the State Court case against him was dismissed, Waters said, "for some reason, the superintendent did not decide to report it to PSC till a year later."
"I'll let you draw your own conclusions from that," he added.
After appealing two revocation votes by the PSC, Waters agreed to a settlement with the commission this spring and kept his educator certificate after a one-year retroactive suspension that ended June 30, 2015.
Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson confirmed last week that the second report to the PSC was made from his office Feb. 25, 2015.
Statesboro police in 2014 told Wilson "they had another investigation going but that we couldn't get involved, we couldn't do anything," he said, because it was wrapped up in the original failure-to-report case against Waters.
"When we became aware of it, we could not report it because it was caught up in the ongoing investigation that the Police Department had," Wilson said.
The criminal charge against Waters was dismissed on Jan. 5, 2015. The next week, school system officials requested the case file from the district attorney's office and then met with police to review the file Jan. 15, Wilson said. He said he then provided the file to his human resources director, they did further investigation and reported to the PSC on Feb. 25.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.