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Legislators investigate school nurse firing

By Clay Wilson

A group of state lawmakers is investigating allegations by a former Henry County Schools nurse that she was fired unjustly after Joella Reaves' apparent child abuse death.

Ga. 59th District (Post 3) Rep. Howard Mosby, D-Atlanta, and 60th District Reps. Pam Stephenson (Post 1), D-Atlanta, and Stan Watson (Post 2), D-Decatur, met with former Eagles Landing Middle School nurse Carolyn Clemons at the state Capitol on Thursday.

"We all know what is going on in Henry County, but we wanted to know first-hand from those who have been negatively affected," Stephenson said in explaining why the legislators wanted to meet with Clemons.

According to Clemons, Stephenson set up the meeting after Clemons' brother-in-law, Ga. 62nd District Rep. Randal Mangham, D-Decatur, told Stephenson about the case.

The Henry County Board of Education voted unanimously after a closed session Jan. 7 to terminate Clemons' employment.

School system officials, in keeping with the system's personnel policy, never commented on whether Clemons' dismissal was connected with Reaves, the 11-year-old girl who was found apparently beaten to death in her family's Stockbridge home.

However, the system did confirm that it conducted an internal investigation into whether ELMS employees failed to report to state authorities suspicions that Reaves was being abused.

Reaves' father and stepmother, Rodney and Charlott Reaves, were charged with murder and cruelty to children. Henry County law enforcement officials have also investigated school system employees, and have said some might be indicted for breaking the state's child abuse reporting laws.

The school board terminated the employment of former ELMS counselor Patricia White and accepted the resignation of former social worker Colandra Taylor after Reaves' death.

Clemons has said she feels school officials fired her "to satisfy the community."

At Thursday's meeting, Clemons recounted to the legislators the circumstances leading to her termination, including an interview with school board attorney Buddy Welch. She said Welch questioned her as to whether she had ever seen Reaves, to which she replied no.

In response to questions from Stephenson, who is an attorney, Clemons said she had neither signed any statements nor received any paperwork from the school system on her discharge.

She also told the lawmakers that her firing has had far-reaching implications on her life. She said she had worked for Southern Regional Medical Center, but that on the day her story broke in the news her supervisor called her and told her not to come in until the matter is resolved.

SRMC spokesman Rick Smith said Friday that Clemons works for the hospital as a PRN – on an "as-needed basis." With such employees, he said, "it's within our rights to schedule them or not."

And while he wouldn't comment specifically on Clemons' situation, Smith said, "There are procedures in (hospital) policy that state that if an employee exhibits behavior that is not in the organization's best interest, there are grounds for corrective action."

Clemons said she still works for Georgia Regional Hospital, and as a nurse for the U.S. Air Force Reserves.

Stephenson seemed to perceive some irony in this fact.

"It's important that you continue to defend your country, and you still work for a state organization – and yet in districts that are supplied by state funds you cannot continue," she said.

The legislators indicated that they want to investigate Clemons' case further. "It's important for us as legislators to understand what occurs in the areas we represent," Stephenson said.

Watson said he wants to speak with school officials to get their side of the story.

However, according to BOE Chairman Ray Hudalla, system policy dictates that school officials be silent about particular personnel cases, even with state legislators.

"That is something we just don't do, and I truly believe in that," he said, citing the confidential nature of employer-employee relations.

"(Watson) is certainly welcome to talk to us. I don't know what the outcome will be," he said.