by: Mike Petchenik Updated:
NORTH FULTON COUNTY, Ga. - The case of a former Fulton County special education teacher accused of abusing students was back before a judge Tuesday, this time because the company that insured the teacher is refusing to pay any future claims associated with her alleged actions.
Jake Marshall’s family is suing Melanie Pickens and others in Federal Court over the alleged abuses at Hopewell Middle School in Milton more than a decade ago.
Marshall’s attorney, Chris Vance, told Channel 2’s Mike Petchenik they are seeking millions of dollars in damages.
Attorneys for National Casualty Insurance, which insures Georgia educators, argue Pickens’ actions, which allegedly include kicking, hitting and shoving Marshall, are not covered by their policy.
“Just because a teacher strikes a child in an educational setting doesn't mean it's corporal punishment,” said attorney Michael Rust.
Rust told Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney the policy doesn’t allow for teachers to randomly hit and push students, as Pickens is alleged to have done.
“If a teacher just harms student, calls a student name...that's not corporal punishment,” he said. “That's not done to punish a student."
But Vance told McBurney that Pickens’ actions, while allegedly illegal, also constitute corporal punishment.
“(The policy) by its very nature...it recognizes corporal punishment can be criminal,” she said. “It's clear what she was doing was punishment.”
Pickens was facing criminal charges, but Fulton County Judge Henry Newkirk ruled last year she acted in good faith and is immune from prosecution. The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office is appealing that decision.
McBurney heard from witnesses who described instances of Pickens punishing Marshall for not following her directions.
“Would I agree with the methods she used? No, I would not have,” testified Stacy White, a special education teacher who worked with Pickens. "I felt like they were too aggressive. I wouldn't have employed them."
Former paraprofessional Yasaland Perry Clay testified that Pickens felt she was the only person who could get Marshall, who was born with several special needs, to comply.
She described for the court a practice that Pickens employed called “jacking,” that she used to pick Marshall off the floor when he would refuse to get up.
“She would grab his pants in the back and give him a "wedgie," pull his pants up and push him up against the wall."
Vance told Petchenik she intends to call Pickens to the stand Wednesday, though she expects she will refuse to answer.
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