Board’s response inadequate

Published 3:01 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I’m writing regarding the case of Assistant Principal Jeanette Grimsley. I am nauseated by the School Board’s decision.

Unlike appropriate discipline, physical abuse can never teach self-control, discipline or respect for authority. Rather, it undermines these traits which are vital to good citizenship and an orderly society. Victims squander years overcoming the “lessons” of abuse. In many cases, they are well into their adulthood before they recover sufficiently to begin learning social skills that the non-abused have mastered by middle school. Some are never able to lead normal lives.

Further, while most parents approve of occasional mild physical correction, they do not generally allow any adult—including the pastors—to administer such correction to their children.

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School principals and assistant principals are the only other adults to whom parents grant this extraordinary trust, and parents have a right to expect that the duty will be executed with extraordinary care, and in a manner which is above criticism. Failure to hold administrators to the highest standard on this sensitive matter undermines trust of the entire community.

The photos and testimony in this case leave no doubt that the punishment administered by Ms. Grimsley was unduly severe and served absolutely no legitimate instructive or corrective purpose. Under Georgia law this meets the definition of physical child abuse, regardless of her intent and regardless of whether or not long-term harm resulted. To put it bluntly, Ms. Grimsley stands accused of actions that rise to the level of criminal child abuse.

For the school board to respond to a violent crime against a child by fining the accused a few hundred dollars and then placing her back in charge of children is an outrage. And the fact that members of the community came forward to support the abuser in this case rather than the victim is nothing short of a disgrace to the entire county.

There are three factors which must be addressed in dealing with a crime.

The first priority is protecting the public from further victimization by the same perpetrator, and the school board has addressed this need. The second priority is to give justice to the particular victim in the case, and this has also been addressed. The third priority must be to deter such actions by others in the future, and on this count the school board’s response has been completely inadequate.

The message has gone out not only to school board employees, but also to parents and others in the community, that authorities in Decatur County do not take the issue of physical abuse seriously. The school board has said, loud and clear, that physical abuse will be tolerated and excused in Decatur County provided that one has a significant record of service to the community.

Certainly anyone can make a mistake; however, when a school board employee commits a felony against a student a monetary fine can hardly be considered an adequate response.

Ms. Grimsley’s victim deserves to have justice served, and Ms. Grimsley deserves a fair trial by a jury of her peers. Certainly when and if she is convicted, her sentencing should take into account her service to the community. But it is exceedingly dangerous to set the precedent that being popular or having a record of community service excuses a person from responsibility for criminal abuse of a child.

Those inclined to abuse the children must be given the message that all such accusations are vigorously investigated and that when allegations are sustained they will be prosecuted. The community should know that the trust they place in school officials is not only well placed, but also adequately enforced with significant consequences for those who violate it.

Michael HickmonLeesburg, Fla.