I am not a fan of reality TV shows, but the Clayton County school system could command a following with its unique dramas, the latest of which is spending $40,000 on what AJC reporter Tammy Joyner described as “a futile effort to pinpoint the source of a rumor involving its superintendent’s conduct.”
In her investigative piece, Joyner notes that the school board approved the rumor probe without public discussion or a public vote when the district was dealing with budget cuts that have resulted in layoffs, delays in book purchases and a shorter school calendar.
While the four-month investigation failed to find out where the rumor started or any wrongdoing by Edmond Heatley, it did uncover 400 sexually explicit pictures on school board member Trinia Garrett’s district-issued laptop. The board wound up dismissing the case against Garrett during a hearing Jan. 23, but not before possibly costing the district several thousand dollars more to investigate. Most of the $40,000 went to computer forensics experts.
The rumors about Heatley reached this blog, where several posters referenced a supposed central office confrontation. But when I asked posters to come forward and speak to reporters even off the record, no one did.
As I have said several times, I am surprised at all the allegations of romantic dalliances in central offices and schools. If there were as much sneaking around and romancing as some posters allege, I am not sure any education could be occurring. (The same can be said for the state Legislature where, unfortunately, some of the rumors of illicit relationships have proven all too true.)
Most of us are too far removed from Clayton situation to know whether the rumors were undermining Heatley, as the school board chair contends in her defense of the money spent tracking them down. Certainly, the rumors were unattractive and awkward but whether they were paralyzing is another question.
According to the AJC:
District documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show the school board requested a “forensic investigation of certain computers and cellphone devices used by the superintendent and [a district employee], ” according to a report from PM Investigations, a computer forensics company.
The report went on to say “the purpose of the digital investigation was to validate [or invalidate] a specific rumor regarding an inappropriate relationship between Heatley and [a school system employee.]” Heatley has repeatedly denied the accusation and the costly investigation uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing.
The written findings of the investigation provided to the school system supported his denials. “An extensive examination and analysis of the data did NOT indicate an inappropriate relationship existed [past or present], ” the investigators found.
The investigators also found no evidence that board members used county computers or cellphones to disseminate the rumor. “The data indicates none of the Clayton County School Board members was responsible for ’spreading’ the rumor to either the public or media.”
The rumor was damaging the district’s ability to function and affecting Heatley’s reputation and his ability to lead the 51,000-student district, board chairwoman Pam Adamson said. “How do you put a dollar value on a man’s integrity and career?” Adamson said. “The man has been proven innocent yet this rumor was wreaking havoc on this man’s personal and professional life.”
—From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog