Inappropriate teacher conduct in Georgia: What’s the policy?

Published: Aug. 23, 2022 at 6:21 PM EDT
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EVANS, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - We’re continuing coverage of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office investigation into a teacher.

Columbia County schools say Evans Middle School teacher Herndon Burns was “relieved of his duties after an inappropriate conversation with a former student.”

We’re learning that the student was 13 years old. They say the student does not live in our area anymore.

Burns will be recommended for termination to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. We’ve asked for clarification about Burns’ status with the district.

We’ve been digging into how the commission deals with behavior like this.

There’s a set of guidelines the Georgia Professional Standards Commission follows for code ethics, certifications, and disciplinary actions.

They have an entire list that school districts and teachers must follow when an incident occurs involving any student.

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office says there is an open investigation for special education teacher Burns for an inappropriate conversation on social media with a former student.

According to Burns’ LinkedIn profile, he’s worked as a special education teacher in Columbia County for over two years.

This is the second investigation involving a special education teacher in Columbia County after the I-TEAM uncovered former teacher Scott Hooker’s alleged sexual assault case in 2017.

But what are school districts supposed to do when these cases happen?

Standard 2 talks about conduct with students. Educators should maintain a professional relationship with all students, inside and outside the classroom.

Unethical conduct includes engaging in or permitting harassment or misconduct toward a student, soliciting or encouraging inappropriate written, verbal, electronic, or physical relationships with a student.

In Standard 9, that section handles professional conduct and says unethical conduct includes actions or behavior or conduct that is detrimental to the health, welfare, discipline, or morals of students.

Educators are required to report a breach of one or more of the standards in the code of ethics for educators as soon as possible but no later than 90 days from the date the educator became aware of an alleged incident.

There are five disciplinary actions and consequences related to certificates: warning, reprimand, suspension, denial, revocation.

Columbia County School District says if anyone sees or knows about suspicious behavior, call them immediately. The anonymous tip line number is (706) 541-3600.