Tougher policies for school employees - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Tougher policies for school employees

Albany - The board approved new policies to help keep criminals out of the classroom. More frequent background checks for current employees, and criminal history disclosures from prospective employees are the most obvious changes to employment requirements. Also, if an employee is arrested for any offense, anywhere, they have three days to report it to their immediate supervisor.

School System Attorney Tommy Coleman says, "If you don't do that, then that will be grounds for termination and grounds for discipline."

Board members say they need to know about all arrests, because if charges are dropped, they won't show up in a criminal background check That was the case with Michael Lewis, a Radium Springs Middle School teacher previously arrested for drug trafficking, but he wasn't convicted.

In January, Lewis was charged with simple battery on a student. Tommy Coleman says the school system is interested in conduct of employees, not just convictions. He says, "If you teach kids, you ought not do drugs, and then you have a teacher, you can discipline them for that."

So what offenses will lead to termination or suspension? Coleman says, "We chose not to put a hard and fast rule about, if you're arrested for this, then you'll get this. That's a matter for the board's discretion."

Why is that? Well, let's say a veteran teacher with an exemplary record, is arrested for DUI. Coleman says that teacher shouldn't be treated the same as new employee arrested for the same offense. "There needs to be some discretion about what the board ought to do after they examine the entire set of circumstances around an employee's arrest or their discipline to decide what the appropriate discipline is," says Coleman.

Another change? Prior to gaining tenure, a review panel will look at performance of employee before his contract is renewed. Coleman says all the changes are to protect the students, and the teachers.

Michael Lewis has taken a leave of absence until the conclusion of his trial. At that time, the school board will choose whether to have a hearing regarding his employment.

posted by karen.collier@walb.com