Suspended teacher has Florida arrest record - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Suspended teacher has Florida arrest record

February 1, 2005

Albany-- School Board officials say Michael Lewis, the Radium Springs Middle School teacher accused of grabbing a student by the neck, has a history of improper disciplinary actions against students.

He had even been recommended for termination and arrested for trafficking cocaine in the past.

A July 2000 report from the Okeechobee County Florida Sheriff's Office shows that Michael Lewis was arrested and charged with trafficking 2.7 pounds of cocaine. He was never convicted, and that arrest never showed up on his background check.

But that's just the beginning of a list of charges against Lewis.

Michael Lewis was charged with simple battery for grabbing a student by the neck last month, now a hearing will be held to see if he can keep his job. "There are a number of specific charges, but most of them are going to arise out of inappropriate and aggressive contact with student by grabbing that student," said School Board attorney Tommy Coleman.

Coleman says Lewis will also have to defend charges of insubordination and verbal altercations with superiors at Dougherty High School where he worked before. Coleman says while at Dougherty, Lewis was accused four times of improper conduct and was even recommended for termination by the principal Horace Reid.

So why didn't Superintendent Sally Whatley act on the recommendation? "That's perhaps a question to be better answered by her, but it's my understanding that there was some support for this young man to give him another chance," said Coleman.

Another chance, in another environment. A strategy that Coleman says Whatley was hoping would help improve Lewis' conduct. "That didn't happen, and obviously it looks like the results didn't turn out as well," said Coleman.

"I believe that they are blown out of proportion. Once there's one allegation and the news media gets a hold of it. It seems to take on a life all it's own," said Lewis' attorney Howard Stiller. Stiller says he hasn't seen all the charges the school system plans to bring against his client, but believes he will be found not guilty on the criminal charges.

Still, how did Lewis even get hired after being charged with drug trafficking? "Dougherty County's requirement, as I understand, it is to disclose convictions and that was an arrest, and of course there's a big difference in an arrest and a conviction," says Coleman.

Coleman says Lewis did in fact disclose that he had been arrested, but the school system doesn't have a policy of asking what the arrest was for and for some reason it never showed up on his background check. "I think we're going to do some pretty dramatic amendments how a person gets hired, what kind of background check they have."

Coleman also says the system may make changes in the way allegations of teacher misconduct are reported. It's still unclear why Lewis was never convicted for the drug charges in Florida, even after admitting the drugs were his.

Coleman says by law the system must give Lewis at least 10 days notice before the hearing, but expects it to take place in about two weeks. For now, he remains suspended with pay.

posted at 6:05PM by dave.miller@walb.com

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