State to open investigation of band directors

CONYERS - The Georgia Professional Standards Commission voted Thursday to open an investigation regarding Salem High School Band Director Shawn Geiger and Assistant Band Director John Claybrook.

"When they vote to investigate, (the case) will be assigned to a (staff) investigator," said Gary Walker, director of the ethics division for GPSC.

He said the investigation could take a couple of months to start and complete, depending on the case and the investigator's case load.

The Rockdale County Public School System filed a complaint against Geiger with the GPSC in January. In its complaint, the school system alleges that Geiger made "inappropriate comments in the presence of students."

RCPS also reported Claybrook to the Professional Standards Commission for not reporting "possible inappropriate behavior" between Geiger and another student. The school system has alleged that Claybrook was present when Geiger asked a male student if he was having sex with a female student, who was also in the band. This conversation reportedly occurred while Geiger, Claybrook and the male student were off campus during school hours.

After the Professional Standards Commission completes its investigation, Walker said the commission will issue a decision, which could include a warning, reprimand, suspension or revocation of the employee or employees.

"Revocation is the invalidation of any certificate, license or permit held by the educator," according to a list of disciplinary actions on the GPSC Web site. "An individual whose certificate has been revoked may not serve as a volunteer or be employed as an educator, paraprofessional, aide or substitute teacher or in any other position during the period of his or her revocation."

Walker said a decision from GPSC on the case could come as late as the commission's May meeting.

He said once the commission issues a decision, an educator may appeal it.

If an educator appeals the decision, the case will go to the state Attorney General's Office and could go on to Superior Court or to the state Supreme Court, depending on the commission's response and if it is continuously appealed by the educator, Walker said.

RCPS Superintendent Samuel King, who was out of town Friday, was unavailable for comment, said Cindy Ball, public information officer for the school system. Members of the Rockdale County Board of Education did not return calls seeking comment as of press time Friday.

The allegations against Geiger stem from a series of incidents that reportedly occurred in September. According to documents obtained through an open records request by the Citizen, a student allegedly overheard a conversation between Geiger and Claybrook, during which Geiger discussed in illicit terms a sexual encounter he had with his wife.

Around this same time, Geiger, Claybrook and another student allegedly conducted an errand off the school's property during regular school hours, at which time Geiger is reported to have asked the student about his sexual activities with a female student.

In October, RCPS Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services Craig Dowling conducted an investigation of the matter after parents complained to him that the situation was not handled appropriately by then-Salem High School Principal Robert Cresswell.

Cresswell announced on Oct. 18 that he would retire from the school system as of Dec. 31.

By Oct. 31, Dowling had collected statements from Geiger, Claybrook and four student witnesses.

In Dowling's report, he said he was "unable to confirm the allegations presented in (the parent's) letter of Oct. 23. However, Mr. Geiger admitted using inappropriate language when speaking with Mr. Claybrook. ... Also, Mr. Geiger admitted asking (a student) if (he) had sex with (another student)."

Dowling recommended that Geiger be given a letter of correction and "a clear directive" to avoid using foul language in the workplace. He also recommended that Geiger refrain from discussing matters of a sexual nature with students.

In response to another open records request filed by the Citizen, RCPS officials said that on Dec. 6, a parent sent an e-mail complaint to the U.S. Office of Civil Rights and a copy to the school system regarding the situation and alleging a Title IX violation. However, the school system would not respond further to Citizen requests for information.

"This complaint is a student education record, and it is excluded from the Open Records Act," RCPS' response reads.

Title IX is part of the Education Amendments of 1972 and is enforced by the Office of Civil Rights. According to the U.S. Department of Education's Web site, Title IX prohibits discrimination - such as sexual harassment, the failure to provide equal opportunity in athletics and discrimination based on pregnancy - in any program or activity that receives federal financial assistance.

As of Jan. 31, no open complaints with Rockdale County schools were pending with the Office of Civil Rights.

According to OCR's Web site, the agency does not handle cases that are being addressed by another agency or within a school's or college's formal grievance procedure if OCR anticipates that the agency will provide a resolution process comparable to OCR's.

On Dec. 11, King requested that another investigation into the allegations against Geiger be opened. The school system hired a private investigator, Andra Cherry, to conduct the queries.

According to his findings, which were based largely on Dowling's original report, Geiger admitted he conversed with Claybrook at work about sexual relations he had with his wife. However, both Geiger and Claybrook denied that a student was present.

Cherry also reported that Geiger admitted to having the conversation with the male student off campus, although he differed with Claybrook in his recollection of how explicit that conversation was.

"Mr. Claybrook and (the student) both reported feeling uncomfortable with this conversation, but neither verbally informed Mr. Geiger," Cherry's report reads.

After Cherry's investigation was complete, Geiger waived his right to a due process hearing and was suspended from the school for 10 days without pay in January.

Geiger returned to work after his suspension.

King has refused to respond to further questions from the Citizen regarding investigations of Geiger and Claybrook by RCPS on the grounds that it is a "personnel matter."

However, according to a letter from RCPS General Counsel Jack Lance to Geiger's attorney, J. Tom Morgan, King agreed to take no further disciplinary action unless further evidence of misconduct should arise. State law required that the superintendent report the matter to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, Lance stated.

Geiger has declined to comment on the matter and referred the Citizen to his attorney. Repeated calls to Morgan, including one made Friday afternoon, have not been returned.

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