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PSC to look at Clayton teacher fight

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Georgia Professional Standards Commission will vote Dec. 10, on whether it will investigate the case of two female, Rex Mill Middle School teachers, who were fighting in school last month over a male colleague, a chief investigator with the certification agency said Friday.

The fight led to one of the female teachers, Ebony Smith, resigning from her job at the school, while the other female teacher, Chaka Cobb, and the male teacher, Derek Green, were suspended.

Smith is a family and consumer science teacher, and Cobb is a seventh-, and eighth-grade language arts teacher, according to the school system's investigative report.

Smith and Cobb got into a profanity-laden confrontation in front of students on Oct. 26, over a message Smith wrote on Green's Facebook page about wanting a deeper romantic relationship with him. Cobb told police she is pregnant with Green's child.

Georgia Professional Standards Commission Chief Investigator John Grant confirmed Friday that the certification agency has received complaints from Clayton County Public Schools officials about Smith and Cobb.

"The commission will vote on whether or not there will be an investigation at its Dec. 10 meeting," Grant said. "It's been my experience that the commission usually expects educators to act in a professional manner when working in the presence of students."

If Smith and Cobb are investigated, and found to have violated the PSC's code of ethics, the teachers could face sanctions, including: a warning; a written reprimand; suspension, or the revocation of their certification to teach in Georgia, according to the PSC's web site. If the teachers lose their certification, they can appeal that punishment, but could have to wait three years to re-apply for certification, if the appeals process does not work out in their favor.

According to Clayton County Public Schools' investigation file, Smith submitted a request to resign on Oct. 30, citing "relocation of family," while Cobb was suspended without pay for 19.5 days, and Green was suspended without pay for 10 days.

The settlement agreements for Cobb and Green show that Cobb's last day of suspension is scheduled to be Dec. 4, while Green completed his suspension on Nov. 13.

Cobb will go on medical leave following the end of her suspension, and then be re-located to another school that has not be decided upon, School System Human Resources Specialist Vicki Stone wrote in a Nov. 4 e-mail to Rex Mill Principal Cassandra Hopkins.

Green was suspended "for his involvement in the incident," White said, but the district did not file a complaint with the PSC against the male teacher, because officials from the certification agency said it would not be "appropriate" to do so.

PSC Chief Investigator Grant said Green's involvement in the affair would have had to have happened on school property to merit being reported to the PSC. Green was not involved in the fight, White said, and the male teacher did nothing improper with either teacher on school grounds.

Grant said teachers who fight in front of students could face investigations related to "Standard 10" of the commission's code of ethics, which dictates the professional conduct of educators. According to that standard, an educator acts unethically by engaging in "any conduct that impairs and/or diminishes the certificate holder's ability to function professionally in his or her employment position, or behavior or conduct that is detrimental to the health, welfare, discipline, or morals of students."

Grant added, "If there was profanity used in front of the students, it could be considered an abuse of the students."

On Oct. 25, Smith wrote on the male teacher's Facebook page that she was in love with Green, and was tired of being his "every blue moon [expletive]." According to a written statement Cobb gave to school system investigators, she saw the note because Green's Facebook page was left open on her personal computer, at her home.

According to a police report on the fight, Cobb sent a reply to Smith. The following morning, at work, the two teachers got into a confrontation over Green and the note, first in a school hallway, and later, in a classroom where students were located.

Several witnesses, including students and other teachers, told Rex Mill's school resource officer that they heard expletives used repeatedly during the fight. Cobb alleged that Smith had hit her on the shoulder. A student told the school's SRO that he saw Smith swing at Cobb, but did not see her hit the reportedly pregnant teacher.

In her statement to school system investigators, Cobb claimed she was 35 weeks, and three days pregnant at the time of the altercation with Smith. "Anyone can visibly see that, therefore, I have raging hormones," Cobb wrote.

Cobb told investigators she felt "provoked" and "threatened" when Smith "came up to me, violating my private space," on the morning of the fight.

"She continued to speak loudly, and came towards me swinging her arms wildly," Cobb said. "She came into the classroom where I was. I felt extremely threatened for myself, and my fully developed child inside of me."

Cobb also wrote that tension had existed between herself and Smith over Green since the 2008-2009 school year. Cobb said Smith had told Green, at an unspecified date, that "she has been attracted to him since she arrived at Rex Mill."

On one occasion last year, Cobb wrote, "Ms. Smith came into my classroom because I stated 'Good Morning' to her ... During this conversation, she told me that she does not care for me, and I need not speak to her."

Cobb wrote that she spoke with former Rex Mill principal Susan Patrick, now an area assistant superintendent for the school system, about problems between her and Smith, but does not indicate that any action was ever taken to alleviate the situation.

Two days before Smith submitted her request to resign, she told school system Investigator Andra Cherry, in an e-mail, that she did not tell administrators at the school about the Facebook note when she arrived for work on Oct. 26, because "It is embarrassing to have to discuss who I am, or am not, sleeping with ... with people, especially my admin [sic] ..."

Smith told Cherry the situation between herself and Cobb could not be fixed. Like Cobb, however, Smith apologized for the fight, and promised that a repeat incident would not happen.

"In my mind, then and now, we can't 'fix' what happened," Smith wrote. "I was wrong for my action, and I apologize sincerely and profusely, but I cannot change what happened. I can, however, assure you that there will not be another time when I 'snap,' as you called it, and allow something like this to happen. I can put this situation behind me and effectively do my job."