One thing that Dougherty County School System Interim Superintendent Butch Mosely is doing is he is sending a message to system administrators and employees: Policies are in place for a reason, and they should be followed.
The clearest example is the case of a volunteer at the South Georgia Regional Achievement Academy. Having been allowed on campus without a background check that would have revealed criminal activity in his past, including statutory rape and felony stalking, Grady Alexander O’Neal has been arrested on three counts of molesting a 14-year-old girl — a student at the achievement academy.
In that case, academy Principal John I. Davis was suspended for a dozen days without pay. A longtime administrator in the Dougherty School System, Mosely no doubt took into account Davis’ record, including his handling the tough assignment as chief administrator at the achievement academy for the past seven years. The lapse in following policy may have led to a student being harmed. The courts will determine exactly what happened. But we are glad to see that Davis’ past performance was taken into account and he was not terminated. The incident, which happened off campus, is a blemish, but it should not be the sole event on which this accomplished educator’s career is judged.
We would also venture a guess that Davis is not the only school administrator in the system who has not run the required background checks on every volunteer. That is the bigger issue here. If O’Neal is guilty of the charges against him, there’s nothing school system officials can do to make that up to the young victim.
But the Dougherty County School System can ensure that it does everything possible to prevent a recurrence.
As hard as it is to get adults to volunteer to help out with schools, there likely has been bending of the background check requirement. Not everyone will subject himself or herself to the “indignity” of being “treated like a common criminal.” That, unfortunately, is the feeling many people have. They feel that the intrusion on their private life is too onerous and that someone is suspicious of them.
To the contrary, any volunteer who is asked to submit to a background check should be supportive of the procedure. It’s not a slight to make a potential volunteer feel ill at ease. It is an attempt to guarantee the safety of our most precious resource — our kids.
No system is foolproof, but every crack that a predator could slip through that can be filled should be. Our children deserve the safest learning environment that we can provide.