School board announces penalties in paddling case

Published 11:48 am Friday, February 20, 2009

Before a standing-room-only crowd and an hour-and-a-half-long closed session Thursday night, the Decatur County Board of Education announced disciplinary action against Jeanette Grimsley, assistant principal at Potter Street Elementary School.

The action stems from a Feb. 6 case of excessive use of corporal punishment on a third-grade student at the school.

An investigation of the incident has been ongoing since the actions of Grimsley came to light on Feb. 9. Superintendent Ralph Jones, along with Dr. Linda Lumpkin, assistant superintendent for Human Resources, led the investigation. Interviews with witnesses to the three different instances that Grimsley paddled the student were conducted during the investigation. The incident was also reported to the Bainbridge Police Department and the Decatur County Sheriff’s Department.

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Although the penalties were announced by the board and considered final, Sheriff Wiley Griffin indicated that his department’s investigation is ongoing.

“After considerable deliberation and a thorough investigation by our staff and Mr. Jones, we have concluded that the employee used poor judgment while administering corporal punishment to the student,” Dr. Sydney Cochran, chairman of the board, said before announcing the penalties in the form of a motion.

The disciplinary actions include a 10-day suspension without pay from Feb. 20 and concluding on March 6, a prohibition from using corporal punishment while an employee of the Decatur County Board of Education, a mandate to attend professional development on alternative disciplinary procedures, placement of official disciplinary documentation in the employee’s personnel file, and a possible review of the employee’s certification status.

The motion, seconded by Jacky Grubbs, passed on affirmative votes by Cochran, Grubbs, Bobby Barber and Randall Jones. Board members Winston Rollins and Clarissa Kendrick abstained from the vote. While Rollins declined comment on the reason for the abstention, Kendrick said “I would have liked to have heard first-hand from the witnesses in this case. The only thing we had to consider is what the Superintendent gave us second-hand.”

After the penalties were announced and approved, Cochran summarized the board’s sentiment of the unfortunate incident.

“This has been a difficult situation. Mrs. Grimsley has had an immaculate record, and as far as I’m concerned, and I think I speak for this group, her record speaks for itself.” Cochran said.

“I think this an isolated case of poor judgment on her part, and I don’t think anyone sitting in this room tonight can say that they haven’t made a mistake in their lives. By the same token, we’re here to safeguard our school children. We can’t tolerate those kinds of mistakes,” Cochran continued.

A written release was provided by the Board that indicated that Grimsley’s 13-year unblemished career with the county system and the feeling that no malice or intent to harm was involved was considered in determining the punishment. The release also indicated that Grimsley has apologized to all parties involved in the case.

The decision to suspend all use of corporal punishment, originally made by Jones immediately after the incident, has been continued until further notice. Additionally, a full review and amendment of the county’s official corporal punishment policy is expected.