by: Mike Petchenik Updated:None —
The Fulton County Schools District has been ordered to pay for the private education of one student, as part of a judge's ruling involving a former teacher, who abused special needs students, although her colleagues failed to report her misconduct, court records say.
Fulton County Administrative Law Judge Kimberly Schroer’s ruling comes as a result of an investigation, which determined Fulton County School officials knew that the teacher, Melanie Pickens, was abusing students at Hopewell Middle School, but failed to report it for several years, records said.
"The school district's own witnesses admitted that the placement of a severely disabled child in classroom with a teacher who was known to be abusive, in a school that was headed by a principal who repeatedly failed to act on reports of such abuse, constituted an inappropriate educational placement," Schroer wrote in her decision.
The ruling came several months after testimony from those who witnessed the abuse at the Milton school, allegedly at the hands of Pickens.
"It was common knowledge on 'G Hall' that Pickens was abusing students, and the abuse was happening pretty much on a daily basis," wrote Schroer. "The undisputed evidence is that Pickens would scream at all the children, including Alex, every day. She would burp in their faces, shake and press her breasts in their faces, press her buttocks in their faces and pass gas."
Schroer found the district "was aware Pickens was hurting children for many years and yet allowed her to remain as a teacher at Hopewell," and that former principal Francis Boyd "created an 'atmosphere of intimidation' at Hopewell and that many of the educators and staff were afraid they would lose their jobs if they continued to make reports about Pickens."
The 65-page decision also orders the school district to finance one student, Alex Williams' private education for the next five years.
Williams' mother, Lisa, told Channel 2's Mike Petchenik she was happy the judge validated concerns of the parents, who she said were never notified by the school about an internal investigation into what happened. Williams told Petchenik she learned about it after the parent of another child called her two years ago.
"It was unbelievable," she said. "I didn't believe her."
Williams said she wants to see everyone involved prosecuted and a complete overhaul of the school system.
Attorney Chris Vance, who represented Williams in the hearing before Judge Schroer, said a private education and attorney's fees will cost Fulton County taxpayers more than $ 1 million. She said the family also intends to a file a federal lawsuit seeking damages in excess of $10 million.
Petchenik tried to reach Pickens at her Johns Creek townhome and by phone, but she didn't return calls seeking comment.
In a statement, Fulton County schools spokeswoman Samantha Evans said:
"This situation never should have happened and our hearts go out to the family for what their child has experienced."