[ This webpage was last updated: Saturday, March 10, 2012 ]
New information is available concerning this incident.
Please see the update for Thursday, August 14, 2003 near the end of this document.
(Look for the rotating "NEW!" graphic.)
Dear JFW Visitor,
Here is a summary of what happened and where things stand today:
- On 10-11-00, a Thursday, my eighth-grade child was accused by schoolmates of having made a gun/bomb threat on the school bus, on the way home from school.
- The following Friday morning, 10-12-00, he was arrested on a felony charge of making a terroristic threat, and was also brought up on a school policy violation for the same offense. My child was suspended for 10 days (actually 11 total) pending the outcome of a school board tribunal
- On Tuesday, 10-24-00, we attended a hearing with the Department of Juvenile Justice in preparation for a court trial. I felt that it was necessary to allow it to go to court considering the falseness of the charge against my child, and what I thought was the possibility of alleged improprieties on the part of some of the parties involved.
- Somewhere along in this time frame, I contacted Senator Zell Miller's office. I also contacted Channels 6, 12, and 26, CNN News, the Augusta Chronicle, Austin Rhodes, and every Georgia State and Federal Representative. Senator Miller and Austin Rhodes were the only two who replied to my inquiries for help and showed interest in helping us.
I later found out that the story apparently wasn't sensational enough to warrant the interest of the media. I will leave remarks on that sad commentary to you, the reader, to ponder on and/or to voice.
- On Thursday, 10-26-00, we attended the RCBE tribunal. Except for the fact that I was not given one critical witness statement until our arrival at the tribunal hearing, I have to admit the tribunal was very well setup and administered by the RCBE. It was nothing like I'd been told, and was an ideal setting for the issues that we had to deal with. I was greatly impressed by the wisdom and understanding exhibited by Mr. Barnes and the other tribunal members. Both the RCBE Office of Public Safety representatives and the Board's lawyer were courteous and professional in their duties.
- As you might have guessed by now, things went in our favor from the start. (Lots of prayer from many folk was heard and answered, thank you all, and a special "thank you" to God for His help.) During the course of the testimonies, the truth came out and it was determined that my child had not said the "gun/bomb" statement reported by the child witnesses. I am not an attorney, so I am in Mr. Barnes and his tribunal associate's debts for their skillfully applied questioning that brought the truth out.
- As far as the school tribunal decision goes, my child was innocent and was able to go back to attending school. His school record is clear, and (trust me as his parent) the word "bomb" is now regulated to the family list of "four-letter words" as far as school goes. (Unless it happens to show up in a vocabulary quiz!)
- As part of the proceedings against my child we were forced to take him to a psychologist for an evaluation. I found this to be particularly distressing and extremely demeaning for both of us. However, I was very impressed by the professionalism and conduct of the doctor and his staff. It was satisfying to find that the evaluation matched my own assessment of my child as being a normal 13 year old, but I still find it sad that the evaluation had to happen at all. My child had done nothing wrong.
- The week of November 15, 2000, I received a letter from the Department of Juvenile Justice that the charges against my son were withdrawn on November 8th, 2000.
- On Wednesday, 12-06-00, I met with Dr. New and Ms. Lawrence. (Note To Other Parents: Make *audio/video recordings of everything! this is now something that I wish that I had done at the time.) The meeting was confidential, and I will not go into the details here except to mention these few things:
1. Dr. New appeared to do everything within the guidelines of the school district to ensure that the investigation was handled properly.
*03-10-12: I neglected to add that it was painfully obvious that Dr. New had set the meeting place up specifically to be able to either make an audio or video record of our meeting, going so far as to make sure that we were all seated facing the same direction, etc.. I suspect that a video recording was being clandestinely made of the meeting, supposed illegal as I was not informed of the recording. Be careful of how meetings are handled, going so far as to dictate the actual meeting place of your choice.
2. I apologized to Dr. New and Ms. Lawrance for any personal offense that my words, published here or elsewhere, may have caused them.
[Thursday, August 14, 2003] However, there are other things that occurred during the original arrest incident that were, in my own opinion and apparently in the opinions of some of the other adult participants, that were not professional and may have bordered on the criminal.
3. The Sheriff's Department apparently gave me incorrect information on who had which copy of some of the statements. This was part of the reason that I had such strong feelings about how the issue was handled. Something needs to be done to ensure that parents are given concise and correct information during the course of an investigation such as the one that we experienced; especially when the investigation involves multiple departments and organizations.
So, where does this leave us now?
For all intents and purposes, everything is "back to normal". Well, except that my child is concerned that the bullies will take advantage of the system to get at him again. I am taking measures to give my child some recourse against physical violence, and have been strongly encouraging him to report violations of the harassment policies at school.
My child now has a police record. Granted, it does state that the charges were withdrawn, but it is still a police record. In the near future, when my child applies for scholarships, that record could be the reason that my child is passed by in favor of children with "clean" histories. The question "Why was the charge withdrawn?" may raise its head when the choice comes down to equally qualified scholarship applicants.
My communication with Senator Zell Miller has apparently ceased. I've heard nothing from his office representative since October 2000. I was hoping that the Senator could help us to get my child's police record expunged. We will have to wait a few weeks to see if any response from Senator Miller's office is forthcoming.
PLEASE SEE "[ Monday, December 18, 2000 ] UPDATE" BELOW!
The following is a summary of what my sister-in-law has told me, from her perspective as a school administrator and middle school teacher (thank you, Sis), and from what I've been able to glean from the educators here in our area. The "zero-tolerance" policy issue is a real headache for both the school administration and the families of the school children.
Educators have no choice but to comply with their respective administration's policies on "zero-tolerance" unless they want to face censure and/or a permanent black mark on their employee record or even termination. I've spoken with some educators here in our area who have risked their positions over trying to take a situation like ours and keep it from going as far as it did in our case. They were successful, but they took a great risk in doing so.
The school administrations in our country are forced to deal harshly with the "zero-tolerance" issues, they can't risk missing the one rare instance where a supposed "threat" is really a warning that a student is going to carry the threat out. Unfortunately, that means that there is no "safety valve" installed in the process that allows administrators to bypass the process quickly when it becomes obvious at the beginning of the investigation that a threat doesn't exist. Like it could have been in our case, had some of the witnesses told the truth at the beginning.
I have a few suggestions for the RCBE, and by extension, for the other school boards in our country:
1. Make the penalties for a person falsely reporting a gun or bomb threat, EQUAL to the penalties invoked on a student for being responsible for making the threat itself.
To sum up my feelings on this matter...
It is far too easy for a person to falsely report a potential threat. They should have to fear legal action on an equal level against themselves should they be discovered to have perjured themselves (lied.) The school boards should have a policy in place to deal with this situation should it arise as it did in this case in Richmond County.
2. Do not ask the civil authorities to make an arrest until it is absolutely certain that every witness' statement is understood to be correct and whole to the best recollection of the witnesses, and then and only then, take the necessary step of involving the authorities.
3. Guard the paper trail. Create standardized "Z-T Incident" forms (see #5 below), and institute a process that automatically creates a secure chain of responsibility for the dissemination of the resulting paperwork. This is critical for all of the parties involved, especially for the accused child(ren) and for their families. For example, in our case I did not receive a key witness' statement until a few minutes before I walked into the tribunal room.
4. Georgia's State Board of Education should develop and institute a "live-action" "gun/bomb threat" training course for all school administrators in the state. It should give them the experience of dealing with this type of situation in a "real school" atmosphere, and ingrain in them a thorough understanding of their responsibilities and of the proper procedures in handling these situations. Both for the real and for the false threat situations. Give them an approved method of dealing with situations that involve the false reporting of a threat. A method that protects the schools, and yet that will ensure that the innocent will be protected from false accusations.
5. Someone needs to develop a software application that is both easy to use, and is specifically tailored to dealing with "zero-tolerance" issues. I would strongly recommend that a national organization that coordinates cooperation between all United States Boards of Education be the force behind this effort. It is very likely that multiple "zero-tolerance" software applications would only cause confusion and competition between school boards, and would not encourage the cooperation between school boards that we need in order to deal efficiently with the "zero-tolerance" issue, and to protect our children.
6. If it is discovered that a student has been falsely accused of having made a threat, then somehow make it known that the accusation was false, and that the parties involved in falsely reporting the incident are being dealt with accordingly.
No child and their family should have to go through life with a stigma attached to them for something that their child did not do. If a child is falsely accused of having made a threat, then the school system should stand beside and behind them to downplay and to extinguish any rumors and/or actions against the family that result from the false accusation and the proceedings that follow. The news media could, and sometimes does, play an important role in this effort.
If there's going to be be "zero-tolerance", it should be to both the threat, and to the false reporting of a threat.
Do I feel that there was wrongdoing on the part of the RCBE or of its employees? [Update:] Yes, I do. Ms. Lawrance apparently went "bonkers" (my interpretation of her behaviour), manipulated the witnesses, interfered with the proper disemination of the paperwork, and was generally obnoxious and rude. As witnesses can attest, I finally had to "put her in her place" by verbally confronting her. That particular incident impressed my son to no end. [It should be noted that she was apparently instructed to leave the tribunal before it started. I passed her leaving as I arrived.]
Will I seek legal recourse against the RCBE or it's employees? At this time, no.
There are enough litigation-happy nuts in America without my adding one more here in Richmond County. The RCBE already has a tight budget; they do not need higher liability insurance rates. (Personally I feel that, as a nation, we need to starve litigation-happy lawyers into poverty.)
I hope that this has made both my feelings and my thoughts on this matter clear to everyone.
Our sincere, heart-felt thanks go to the following folk:
Austin Rhodes, at WGAC/580, News-Talk Radio
Mrs. Linda C. Schrenko, Georgia's State Superintendent of Schools
Dr. Veta New, Principal of Langford Elementary School
Officer Register, Langford's Public Safety Officer
Officer Greene and Investigator Rogers of the RCSD
The Men and Women of the RCBE Tribunal that heard my son's case
(Most of) The Faculty and Staff of Langford Middle School
Our friends and family, who are standing with us through this trial
A young person of courage
... and my own sincere thanks to my Son, for telling me the whole truth,
and with sticking to it despite all of the testimonies to the contrary.
Good job, Son. :o)
[ Monday, December 18, 2000 ] UPDATE:
Today we received two letters. One was from Georgia Senator Zell Miller and the other was from Commissioner Orlando L. Martinez, Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.
Senator Miller's letter included a copy of Commissioner Martinez' letter. In Senator Miller's letter, the Senator wrote that he had found it a pleasure to be of assistance in obtaining a favorable resolution to our problem.
Thank you very, very much, Senator Miller. We are indebted to you for your help. (... and yes, I did vote for the Senator this time 'round, and that was before we knew of his help in this matter!)
Commissioner Martinez wrote in part:
"It is my understanding that [the intake worker] shared the results of the evaluation with you. [Your child] is a gifted child with great potential. Be assured that he does not have a juvenile record as a result of this occurrence. I wish you and [your child] much success and certainly appreciate your advocacy on your son's behalf."
Thank you, Commissioner Martinez. Your help in this matter has been invaluable to us.
Well, this ends it. In the light of this outcome to the "Bully-gate!" issue, I do not feel the need to continue updating this page. Questions should be directed to the Administative Contact Link below.
We owe all to God's hand in this matter, and much thanks to those that He used to bring this matter to a conclusion.
Thank you all. :o)
[ Monday, March 04, 2002 ] UPDATE:
I was recently reminded that the bullies who were involved in the incident were never punished in any manner by the Richmond County Board of Education (RCBE.) These children committed hostile and illegal activities against my son as defined by the RCBE's Zero-Tolerance policies, policies in effect at the time of the incident (the same policies that were used to unfairly persecute my son.) These bullies were never punished for their crimes as dictated by these policies.
I was also unaware that some of these young people currently attend the same Richmond County school, and some of the same classes, as my son. Because of my concerns for my son, the inequitable differences in how my son and the bullies were treated, and my related concerns involving other aspects of the incident, I am currently reconsidering my decision to not pursue legal action in this matter.
At the time of the incident and throughout it's course, my concern over making sure that my son was not unfairly treated or further abused "by the system" may have kept me from seeing this matter from a clear and objective viewpoint. I am greatly concerned that, in my drive to protect and to clear my son of the false charges against him, I may have allowed some grave injustices to be covered over and to go unpunished.
If you are the parent of a child who has been falsely accused of violating your school system's Zero-Tolerance policies, please consider my advice that you obtain the services of a competent attorney as soon as you possibly can. While this may greatly help your own cause to prove your child's innocence, it may also help to protect the other children in your school system by ensuring that your school board is completely aware of the consequences of not properly handling matters of this sort.
[ Thursday, August 14, 2003 ] UPDATE:
The two recent supposed bomb threats at my son's Richmond County high school has brought me back to this page with an update.
Hopefully these new incidents will prove to be simply the foolish actions of pranksters, and not the actions a real bomber.
Related to "Bully Gate", I have not been able to obtain the services of a lawyer, so we have not yet pursued legal action against the Richmond County Board of Education and certain of it's employees.
Contact Info: Administrative Inquiry Form
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