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Tribunal recommends teacher's termination, again

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

For the second time in a year, a Clayton County Public Schools tribunal panel has recommended that In-School Suspension Teacher Antonio Mahone be fired, a school system spokesman said on Friday.

Panel members resumed deliberations on Friday morning, after a one-week break, following the presentation of witness testimony on Feb. 19. The school system sought to terminate Mahone's employment, partly for pleading guilty last September to three misdemeanor, criminal charges without notifying school system officials. The charges stem from allegations of misconduct with a female Kendrick Middle School student in January 2009.

School officials also argued that Mahone violated policy by calling in sick, so he could go to court and enter the guilty plea. "The hearing tribunal finished its deliberations, and the outcome was that it upheld the superintendent's [Edmond Heatley] recommendation that Mr. Mahone's employment be terminated," said School System Spokesman Charles White.

The panel's recommendation now goes to the Clayton County Board of Education for approval, according to White. Under state law, the board will have 10 days, after board members receive the hearing transcript, to make a decision on Mahone's employment.

Mahone's attorney, Borquaye Thomas, said he was not surprised by the panel's decision, adding that he and his client are now waiting to see what the school board decides to do. "Obviously, we're hopeful the board looks past the tribunal panel's recommendation, and decides to not terminate his employment," Thomas said.

It is the second time a tribunal panel has recommended that the school board fire Mahone. In March 2009, the school board rejected a previous recommendation, at the time, to fire the teacher for alleged sexual abuse of the middle school student. Some board members cited "loopholes" in the accounts of what happened with the student, and they opted, instead, to transfer Mahone out of Kendrick Middle School.

Mahone testified at the tribunal hearing on Feb. 19 that he is now an in-school suspension teacher at the school district's alternative school in Jonesboro. On Friday, White said the teacher is on administrative leave with pay, pending the school board's decision.

School System Attorney Winston Denmark said there are differences between the new recommendation for termination, and the one that went to the school board last year. The original recommendation was based on the alleged misconduct with the student, while the new one is based on Mahone's guilty plea. "When the first hearing was held, there had not been a guilty plea, yet," he said. "That came after the school board made its decision."

Mahone entered a negotiated, guilty plea in Clayton County Superior Court to three reduced charges of disorderly conduct, simple battery and simple assault on Sept. 9, 2009. Court documents show that the teacher was sentenced to 36 months of probation; to pay $1,100 in fines and court costs; to submit to an HIV test, and to have no contact with the female student.

The documents also show those charges were reduced from the original charges of enticing a child for indecent purposes, sexual battery, and sexual assault. An additional charge of child molestation was nolle prossed (or not prosecuted) as part of the plea agreement.

"All the time, people are accused of doing things they didn't do," Mahone said during testimony on Feb. 19. "I didn't want to risk going to jail, and being labeled a sex offender. When they came to me with that [the plea deal], I felt it was the right thing to do to get this over with. I was not guilty of anything."

Denmark said Mahone violated his employment contract with the school system by not contacting officials in the human resources department to make them aware of the plea. Contracts for school system employees include a clause that requires them to notify officials, if they plead guilty to, or are convicted of, a crime, according to the school system's attorney.

Denmark said the school system did not find out about the guilty plea until January of this year, after school system investigator, Andra Cherry, was contacted by investigators from the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. "They [Mahone and his attorney] failed to refute the evidence that was presented to the tribunal panel," Denmark said. "There's seldom a clear case, but this was a very clear case."

Georgia PSC Chief Investigator John Grant said the commission approved a sanction for Mahone in October 2009, but the punishment is not a final action until the teacher has exhausted his due process rights, which include a review by a state administrative judge. Grant said he cannot discuss what the sanction is until the commission's decision is finalized.

Grant said his office began investigating Mahone in April 2009, when the commission received a complaint against the educator from Clayton County school officials.