BOE fires teacher over 'guilty' plea

Antonio Mahone has lost his job as an in-school suspension teacher at Clayton County Public Schools' Alternative School, for pleading "guilty" to three misdemeanor charges last September without telling anyone in the school system about it.

The Clayton County Board of Education voted 8-0 on Tuesday to uphold an employee tribunal panel's recommendation to fire Mahone. The charges to which Mahone pled guilty, stem from allegations of misconduct with a female Kendrick Middle School student in January 2009.

A year ago, the school board overturned a tribunal panel's recommendation to fire Mahone for that alleged misconduct. Although the new case was only referred to as a tribunal panel recommendation during the board meeting on Tuesday, School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson confirmed afterward that it was dealing with Mahone. Anderson said she could not comment on the matter because it is a personnel issue.

"Far and away, there was only one result that was supported by the evidence, and that was that he should be fired," said School System Attorney Winston Denmark. "He did not do what his contract said he was supposed to do."

The case is now expected to move forward as an appeal before the state Board of Education, said Mahone's attorney, Borquaye Thomas. "We will definitely appeal," he said. "We have a month to do so."

Thomas has repeatedly argued that the school system was seeking to fire Mahone over the ‘guilty' plea as retaliation over the school board's decision a year ago to not fire the former teacher. That is an allegation Denmark has repeatedly denied.

Still, Thomas said his client did nothing to merit being fired by the school board for not notifying the district of his guilty plea. "One of the school system's employees, [investigator] Andra Cherry, was present at some of my client's hearings," Thomas said. "It was assumed by Mr. Mahone that the school system knew about the guilty plea. Pleading guilty to three misdemeanors is not something Mr. Mahone was trying to hide."

In other business, the school board approved it's second progress report for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) since the district regained its accreditation — on a probationary basis — last May.

The board voted 6-0-2 in favor of sending the report to SACS. School Board Members Jessie Goree and Michael King abstained from the vote. Goree said there were parts of the report that she did not, yet, fully understand, and King said he abstained because of an ongoing legal battle with the school board and its ethics commission over a decision made a year ago to remove him from office.

The report will now be submitted to SACS officials ahead of a two-day visit, which will be done April 15-16, by a review team from the accrediting agency. The school system has yet to reach "operational" status on four SACS mandates, including: Committing to an ethics policy governing the actions of school board members; implementing a comprehensive, strategic planning process at the school, and district, levels; conducting a review of the school system's organizational structure, and establishing an articulated action plan for dealing with the resolution of conflicts involving staff members and school board members.

"The district has made progress toward meeting the SACS mandates, but I don't want to second guess the SACS review team — they are the ones who ultimately make that decision," said Kay Sledge, a school system coordinator, who said she is taking over the district's accreditation efforts from Fine Arts Executive Director Paul Robbins, who is preparing to retire.