Diedra Knight is appealing to a three-member panel to retain her job as a teacher at Jackson Elementary, where in March there were reports of inappropriate sexual conduct among a group of kindergartners. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)
JONESBORO — A Jackson Elementary teacher is fighting for her job after she and school officials said they discovered inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature among students in her classroom.
“This is one of the more disturbing cases that I’ve ever been involved in — acts of sexual contact involving children,” said Winston Denmark, attorney for Clayton County Public Schools. “These children are 5- and 6-year-old kindergarten children.”
Denmark is representing the district in an employee tribunal hearing Friday regarding Diedra Knight’s continued employment as a kindergarten teacher.
Sharese Shields Ages, an attorney with the Shields Law Firm in Atlanta representing Knight, objected to Demark’s characterization.
“There were multiple acts of sexually inappropriate behavior but it was not limited to Ms. Knight’s classroom,” said Ages. “However, my client was not responsible for that.”
Denmark contends the acts that led to an internal investigation occurred March 5, and included both exposure and physical contact of a sexual nature. He said as many as five students were involved.
He said investigations revealed there were multiple incidents in the class, occurring during instructional time and that, either Knight was present in the classroom when the acts occurred or she was not present in the classroom.
Denmark said there were two adults assigned to the classroom — Knight and a paraprofessional.
“The evidence will show that in every instance there was at least one adult in the classroom,” said Denmark, who alleges the actions constitute violations of the Fair Dismissal Act because the teacher was derelict in her duties in the classroom.
One of the unnamed students, with her mother at her side, gave graphic testimony as part of the hearing.
A bow wrapped the 6-year-olds hair tightly in a pony tail as she fidgeted in the seat next to her mother. However, this was before the hearing.
The child began to cry as she was sworn in, inside a room full of serious-looking adults. She struggled to answer questions as her eyes wandered around the small room.
The attorneys and the presiding hearing officer tried to reassure the child as they began their line of questioning.
When the girl was asked if the acts involved physical contact, she replied, “Yes.”
The attorney asked her if Knight was in the classroom at the time the physical contact occurred and the student replied, “No.”
When the girl was asked if she had spoken with the teacher about the acts she responded quietly, “I don’t know.”
Denmark said her friends are no longer in the same class as her.
Shields Ages began asking questions.
“If you touch someone’s private parts at school, is that something you think you’d get in trouble for?” said Ages, reassuring the little girl she was in no trouble.
“Yes,” she said.
She then asked the young girl if the acts she witnessed in the classroom involved boys and girls touching inappropriately.
“Yes,” the girl answered sobbing. She also confirmed that students had exposed themselves.
Jackson Elementary Assistant Principal Cindy Brackett was another witness.
She said four students were interviewed when the first allegations arrived to administrators.
Brackett said she took students’ statements, including that of the 6-year-old witness.
She said the children’s accounts were “very consistent.”
Brackett gave a graphic account of the encounters that involved what could only be viewed as extremely inappropriate contact.
The identities of the children involved in the incident and their families are concealed for their privacy.
This story was filed at press time, before the conclusion of Friday’s employee hearing. Check back at the Clayton News Daily for further details about the employee hearing.