The Bulloch County school system “must do more” to prevent students or employees from becoming the victims of misconduct, Superintendent Charles Wilson says.
Wilson released a statement to the Statesboro Herald last week in reaction to the recent arrests of two Statesboro High School paraprofessionals on charges of inappropriate behavior with students, and the arrest of Principal Dr. Marty Waters for allegedly failing to report abuse by one of those employees.
These arrests have shaken Statesboro High, which is by far the largest school in the Bulloch County system, as well as the district itself and the community. Parents, community members and district officials have since been searching for answers: How could this have happened? What can be done to prevent similar incidents in the future?
“If even one of our students or employees becomes a victim of misconduct, then we must do more,” Wilson said in the statement. “As we prepare for a new year, our new hire orientation and employee convocation will continue to stress this fact and infuse what we have learned from recent events. Every employee and every student must feel comfortable in reporting any suspected abuse and be secure in the knowledge that the information will be acted upon and that he or she will be safe from any retaliation by the individuals involved.”
Assistant girls soccer coach Jeffery Tyler Crowder, 25, of Mike-Ann Drive, was arrested April 30 on a felony sexual assault charge stemming from alleged sexual contact with a 16-year-old female student.
Luke Edward Parks, 26, of Jesup, turned himself in to police May 1 after an arrest warrant was issued charging him with sexual exploitation of children and sexual assault, both felonies. Police said those charges stemmed from an investigation after police were notified that Parks “was engaged in a relationship of a questionable nature with a 16-year-old female student at the high school.”
Both Crowder and Parks resigned.
During Crowder’s preliminary hearing June 3, Statesboro police Detective Sgt. James Winskey testified that Crowder admitted having “hooked up” with at least two female students more than once in his home and that police questioned seven female students who said Crowder had inappropriately contacted them in social settings or through social media.
Crowder was denied bond at a separate hearing the same day and remains in jail.
The district’s most immediate responses, Wilson said, are continuing to cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation and offering counseling support for any students or employees who need it. He added that the district conducts “extensive state and federal background checks” before it hires any employees, as well as routinely providing training for employees on appropriate behavior and conduct with students.
Part of that training for new hires, Wilson said, is attending an orientation session with legal counsel. That session reviews ethical guidelines that “are very specific as to the boundaries of teacher/student relationships and clearly define any abuse of students, physical or emotional, as an ethical violation that can lead to loss of a teacher’s certification.”
‘Mandatory reporters of child abuse’
Waters, 41, of Nevils, was arrested May 9 on a misdemeanor charge of failure to report child abuse. Police said they made the arrest after “detectives learned Waters was informed as early as March of 2014 of suspected child abuse between assistant coach Jeffrey Crowder (previously arrested) and a female student.”
During Crowder’s preliminary hearing, Winskey told the court that when Statesboro High faculty members learned of an alleged affair between Crowder and one girl in March, they told Waters, who confronted Crowder about the accusations. Crowder denied having any inappropriate contact with students, and Waters “told him he needed to be careful,” Winskey said.
Waters waived his right to an arraignment Monday in Bulloch County State Court, entered a “not guilty” plea and requested a jury trial.
Waters was not offered a contract for the 2014-15 school year, and his name was not included on a slate of school administrators who were offered new contracts. The Board of Education voted 5-2 to accept that slate. After that, the board voted unanimously to accept Waters’ resignation as SHS principal effective June 30. Assistant Principal Dr. Ken LeCain has served as acting principal since Waters was arrested.
In his statement, Wilson said that neither he nor anyone in the school system central office was aware of the full details of the cases prior to the police investigation.
“We, like you, are learning many of the specific details as part of the unfolding judicial process,” he said. “The nature of what has been discovered and reported by investigators is unfathomable and is not acceptable to what this community should, or will, accept.”
Employees annually sign the district’s employee handbook, stipulating they will follow what it says and are aware of its contents. Wilson said the handbook “clearly” states “that our school-level employees and principals are considered mandatory reporters of child abuse.”
“They are required to immediately report (within 24 hours) any suspicious activity to the Department of Family and Children Services and the school system’s social worker,” he said. “School system employees have a legal and a moral duty to protect our students and should never rationalize not reporting suspicious behavior.”
But Wilson pledged that the district will do even more from here forward.
“Finally, we teach students about risky behaviors; however, it is clear that more employee training is necessary,” he said. “We are looking at our current training to see how we can better ensure that employees are actively involved in assessing risks and knowing how best to recognize and respond to suspicious behavior. Every employee needs to better understand their role in maintaining a performance culture that expects exemplary behavior.”
Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.