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Cruelty charges dropped against AHS employees

COVINGTON - Charges were dropped last week against an Alcovy High School teacher and paraprofessional who were arrested in late March following allegations of abuse of a special-needs student.

The grand jury heard the case against former teacher Derrick Roberts and former paraprofessional Nanette Surber on Dec. 5 to review the criminal evidence and decide if there was a need for an indictment.

Newton County Sheriff's Office investigators took the two into custody on March 27 and charged them with simple battery and cruelty to children in the first degree after a fellow Alcovy High employee complained to school administrators. NCSO investigators alleged that Surber placed packing tape over the mouth of a 17-year-old 11th-grade student who was severely handicapped and nonverbal. Investigators also alleged that Roberts repeatedly placed a bar of soap in the mouth of the same student, according to a warrant.

"After a consideration of all the evidence in these two cases, the grand jury found insufficient evidence to return an indictment," said Ken Wynne, Alcovy Judicial Circuit district attorney, in an e-mail Thursday. "This effectively closes the criminal prosecution."

He said by law, the grand jury is prohibited from disclosing its reasons and the discussion that took place during deliberations.

Michael Waters, an attorney for Roberts, said it's unfortunate that his client lost his career over the issue - Roberts' mother was an educator and his brother was a special-needs child; Roberts also overcame a stuttering problem as a child and was inspired to become a teacher and help other students, Waters said.

"He lost his career and eight months of his life - there's no way to get that back," Waters said.

Both Surber and Roberts resigned from the Newton County School System in late April, after the school system removed them from the classroom and informed them that school officials would report them to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission due to the allegations. Surber claimed her reason for leaving was "personal," while Roberts said he didn't want to cause his students, the school or the school board any concerns, according to their resignation letters.

Sherri Viniard, director of public relations with NCSS, said the two still aren't employed with the school system at this time, but it's possible they could be in the future.

"If they were to submit applications, we would review their history and previous employment records as we would any other applicants," she said.

John Grant, chief investigator for the Georgia PSC, said both cases against Surber and Roberts are still open. He said he couldn't comment on individual cases that are still open, but in general, school systems report such acts to the commission, which meets for discussion and then issues a decision on the matter. That decision is sent to the educator, who, in turn, can accept the decision or request a hearing.

Waters said Roberts plans to request a hearing in the matter, although he doesn't know his plans regarding his career in the educational field.

Grant said in general that while evidence might not be a criminal matter, it could still be an educational issue the commission may address.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.