I-TEAM: Alleged victim speaks after filing lawsuit against ex-teacher
EVANS, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The I-TEAM spent months investigating how one teacher slipped through the cracks of what seems like a broken system in Georgia.
More than a year ago, the I-TEAM broke the story of Scott Hooker and his history with the Columbia County School system.
Hooker is charged with improper sexual contact, sexual battery, and simple battery.
We found what appeared to be a pattern of alleged inappropriate behavior that started with the special education teacher.
Accusations date back to 2015 at Evans High School in Columbia County eight years later.
The I-TEAM began looking into the allegations and requested Hooker’s personnel file more than a year ago.
It details when and where Hooker slipped through the cracks in the Columbia County School District.
In 2015, a letter from the Evans High Principal to the Superintendent says a student is said to have called Hooker “Daddy.”
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Hooker received a written note of concern and was strongly advised to refrain from unprofessional behavior.
Two years later, in 2017, is when Madison Cooksey’s alleged sexual assault happens.
“It’s been difficult. It’s been a long waiting for all this to kind of get settled and seeing where it’s all going. One minute I was in class, the next minute I’m in the office surrounded by police officers and my mom,” said Cooksey. “And it’s just a really surreal feeling, knowing that one minute you’re supposed to be in this safe environment, teaching or learning from your teachers, and the next minute, your whole life just kind of changes.”
The Evans High Principal sent a letter to Hooker after the school received a complaint from Cooksey.
“She accused him of side-hugging her, moving his hand down her back, and touching the lower back and butt area.” Hooker admitted to the school about “giving the student a side-hug or patting the student’s back while sitting down in his chair.”
The principal recommended a “formal letter of reprimand be placed in hooker’s personnel file and other disciplinary action may be taken by the superintendent, Sandra Carraway.”
The letter states that “if an incident or allegation was deemed unprofessional or if the code of ethics was violated, hooker may be fired.”
Eight days later, then-superintendent Carraway sent her response to Hooker.
She called his interactions with female students “worrisome” and said, “he could not be alone with or have physical contact with a female student beyond his duties.”
Two months later, deputies were called to Evans High School again. Cooksey told deputies “Hooker would often cross paths with her and stand next to her while staring at her.”
Cooksey later transferred while Hooker continued to teach at Evans High School.
“It’s very, very mind-blowing that all of these things, even before my situation had happened and it was just kind of, oh, you shouldn’t do that. Let’s not do that anymore. That’s not appropriate. Instead of actions being taken in place to prevent things like this from happening again,” said Cooksey.
Hooker would send in a resignation letter at the end of the year, having accepted an administrator role at the Georgia School for Innovation and the Classics in Richmond County, where he taught for a little over a year, before going to Burke County High School, where he would later be arrested, again.
“To go on to multiple different schools and do the same thing. I just can’t even put into words how it makes me feel knowing that that was able to happen and who knows how many other than me and the other girl who is involved who could have been a victim of his. It’s just ridiculous,” said Cooksey.
The I-TEAM started asking questions.
What exactly are the guidelines for school districts if something like this happens?
The I-TEAM found the Georgia Professional Standards Commission oversees any individual with a teaching certification in the state. It creates and follows a code of ethics for educators to follow while they have a certification to teach.
Standard two 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.”
Standard nine 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 no later than 90 days from the date the educator became aware of an alleged incident.”
An investigator with the commission says the only case they had on Hooker was from April of 2022 in Burke County, meaning it would seem no one from Columbia County reported Hooker’s actions in 2017.
I-TEAM Reporter Will Rioux asked Cooksey what she felt needed to change in light of what we uncovered.
“I’m not really sure where it takes down in the system of what exactly went wrong. All I know is that wherever it did go wrong, it doesn’t need to go wrong again,” she said.
According to a 2010 report from the US Government Accountability Office, the lack of oversight allows sexually abusive teachers to quietly move from school to school.
On average, one offender passes through three different school districts before being stopped and can abuse as many as 73 children in their lifetime.
No state or national databases exist to track incidents.
“It’s honestly pretty devastating to go through all of this,” Cooksey feels. “Columbia County hasn’t really done their part, nor are they wanting to do their part. And it… it’s just really tough for people in my situation going through that and wanting to come forward and wanting justice for the right things and nobody else wanting justice for you.”
Cooksey and her lawyer, Clay Burckhalter, are filing this lawsuit against the Columbia County School District, Scott Hooker, and former Superintendent Sandra Carraway.
“I just think in this entire situation, that was a complete failure on the Columbia School System part,” said Burckhalter. “They have been very hesitant to accept any wrong, that they were wrong and acted wrongly in this whole situation.”
They’re claiming in the lawsuit “Instead of concerning themselves with protecting children, the entire administration did their best to sweep these matters under the rug.
We reached out to the Columbia County Board of Education for comment, but we have not heard back.
Georgia law allows the district 30 days to respond to the lawsuit.
Despite her experiences, Cooksey is undeterred. “I’m not going to let it slide and I’m not going to back down until something is done about it. Something needs to be done. Still, things need to change. Rules, regulations, mandatory reporting, everything.”
She also still holds on to the hope of one day being a teacher herself. “After going through this, it just … it pushes me more to want to be one of the good teachers in this world and protect the young children of this world more than anything. So I think it just is a little bit more of a passion there now.”
Scott Hooker is expected to be in court for his trial on August 21.
The I-TEAM will be there and we’ll be sure to keep you updated with that case.
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