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Schools tribunal hearing terroristic threat case

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

A 16-year-old Mundy's Mill High School student told a Clayton County Public Schools tribunal on Tuesday that he's had to be on guard since a teacher at the school sought a "hit" -- or a contract to have him killed -- in early October.

The tribunal was convened to decide whether the county's board of education should fire Special Education Teacher Randolph Forde for allegedly offering money, on Oct. 9, to another student to kill the 16-year-old.

A few weeks before allegedly requesting a hit on the 16-year-old male student, Forde allegedly pulled the youth out of his math class and asked him if he was gay, the youth testified. The 16-year-old spent nearly an hour testifying on Tuesday about his anger over Forde's alleged inquiry into his sexual orientation, a profanity-laced verbal altercation between the student and the teacher, and the disruptive effect the alleged hit request has had on his life.

"I was really devastated, because this is a grown man, and I'm a teenager, and I hadn't done anything to make him want to do this," the student testified. "I have to constantly watch my back. I have to watch my surroundings. I can't be myself."

The three-person tribunal spent seven hours hearing testimony from six witnesses, including the alleged victim, Clayton Superintendent Edmond Heatley, and a student who was allegedly asked to perform the hit.

The hearing will be continued on Friday, at 10 a.m., at the Clayton County Public Schools Central Administration Complex. Borquaye Thomas, Forde's attorney, said he is not yet sure if the teacher will testify in his own behalf.

Testimony on Tuesday focused on three events involving Forde and the 16-year-old alleged victim: Forde asking the student if he was gay in late September; a verbal altercation the following day between Forde and the youth in the same math classroom, and the alleged request for a hit on the pupil.

Forde allegedly approached a 17-year-old student, who is a friend of the 16-year-old, at the school bus lanes during dismissal on Oct. 9. There, he allegedly offered the student $50 to kill his 16-year-old friend, according to the 17-year-old's testimony. "He told me he wanted me to kill somebody on the bus," said the 17-year-old. "The bus started to take off. He was walking after the bus, holding a piece of paper with [the 16-year-old student's] name on it."

The 17-year-old also said it was not the first time Forde had asked him to perform a hit on someone. The youth said a week before the teacher sought a hit on the 16-year-old male, Forde requested a hit on a female student.

"The first time, with the girl, I thought he was joking," the 17-year-old said. "The second time, I didn't think he was joking, because why would you come to me about something like that?"

During the testimony of the 17-year-old student, School System Attorney Winston Denmark played a video from the security camera on the school bus, which showed Forde getting on the school bus, walking down the aisle to the 17-year-old, and then, Forde and the 17-year-old walking off the bus.

The video then showed the 17-year-old climbing back onto the bus seconds later and walking back to his seat, where he stuck his head out of his window, and had a conversation with Forde. Forde could not be seen holding up a piece of paper in the video, however.

During cross examination, Forde's attorney, Borquaye Thomas, questioned the students about discrepancies in their stories. In one instance, he asked the 17-year-old why he told Mundy's Mill's school resource officer, four days after Forde's alleged request, that the teacher was not serious -- in his [the student's] opinion. That was after the youth testified that he thought Forde was serious about the request.

"Four days after he supposedly asked you to perform a hit on somebody, you still thought he wasn't serious?" Thomas asked. The youth said he didn't mention in his written statement to the SRO that he took the threat seriously, because the paper he was given to write his statement on was "small, so I couldn't fit everything."

The 17-year-old's response then became confusing when Denmark asked him on re-direct whether the youth did, in fact, take the request seriously. "I didn't think it was that serious -- it was serious, but -- I don't know," the 17-year-old said.

Later, Denmark called a witness whose testimony seemed to favor Forde more than it hurt him. Mundy's Mill High School Math Teacher Jennifer Fletcher was called because it was in her classroom that the verbal altercation between Forde and the 16-year-old student occurred. It was also during her class that Forde asked the 16-year-old about his sexual orientation.

Fletcher said she did not agree with Forde's "choice of words," concerning his inquiry into the student's sexuality, but she added that Forde is "a good teacher," and that students at the school miss him. She said his reputation at the school is "obviously very damaged," because of the allegations made against him.

Fletcher painted her fellow educator as someone who took unusual approaches to get students to improve their academic performances. "He would tell them 'You need to graduate, this degree is so important to your future,'" Fletcher testified. "He was always trying to come up with something to shock the students, and to catch their attention, so they would do better in school."

Fletcher's testimony also painted the 16-year-old student as someone who did not focus on his school work, and whose dancing with another male student at the start of class every day was a distraction to the other students in the class.

Fletcher also said the 16-year-old was usually respectful to teachers, although she said he allegedly threatened to get another teacher fired, after Forde was put on suspension by district officials.

The recommendation to fire Forde was made by Superintendent Heatley, in spite of three recommendations from lower-level district employees for suspension without pay. Heatley said Mundy's Mill Interim Principal Jackie Hubbert recommended a five-day suspension without pay, while School System Director of Human Resources John Staten recommended a letter of correction, placing Forde on a professional development plan, and a suspension of three to five days, without pay. School System Chief Human Resources Officer Douglas Hendrix recommended a 30-day suspension without pay, Heatley said.

During her testimony, Hubbert said she only recommended suspension because she never found definitive proof that Forde sought a hit on the 16-year-old. She also said she had not heard about the teacher allegedly seeking a hit on a female student, before Tuesday.

When Heatley was asked why he recommended Forde's termination, instead of a suspension, the superintendent said: "I used, as a basis, the fact that we have an obligation as educators to fulfill a higher duty. It is our duty to protect our students, to educate them, nurture them and to provide a safe environment for them to learn in. The conduct of the teacher was unprofessional, it violated several standards of the Professional Standards Commission's Code of Conduct."

Thomas said, however, the district is pushing to have his client fired because of media attention surrounding the case. "Our position is the threat is being made up [by the 16-year-old, and the 17-year-old]," he said.

Because of the alleged request for a hit on the 16-year-old, Forde is also facing a charge of making a terroristic threat, in Clayton County Superior Court.