According to state records, two candidates for governor — one Republican and one Democrat, both trained as high school educators — have had their teaching certificates suspended for misconduct involving female students.
Summaries of both cases, handled by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, are available for public inspection, courtesy of the state’s Open Records Act.
Ray McBerry, a Republican champion of states’ rights and a former history teacher, had his certificate suspended for one week in 2004 following allegations from the Henry County school system that he had “maintained an inappropriate relationship with a student and that he deliberately misrepresented the facts of the case in his first response to the school system’s investigation,” a case summary states.
McBerry had met the girl at church, where he was a youth minister, and said he was counseling her.
A complaint against McBerry was filed by the girl’s mother in December 2002. Connie Rutherford, a spokeswoman for the Henry County school system, said McBerry resigned his position at Patrick Henry High in Stockbridge less than a month later.
The student told investigators that she and the teacher had kissed, and that he fondled her breasts. McBerry told investigators she hugged him. In their separate interviews, McBerry and the female student agreed on one point: McBerry gave her a cell phone to keep in touch.
The age of the girl is not mentioned in documents. She did not attend Patrick Henry High — a fact that doesn’t matter in the eyes of the Professional Standards Commission.
Witnesses followed the teacher — who at the time was married — and student to a rendezvous on a dirt road, after the girl’s mother and stepfather warned him to stay away from her. McBerry denied, in writing, that the meeting had occurred. Then he admitted, also in writing, that it had.
From the case file: “Looking back at this, [McBerry] wished he had not responded as quickly. The allegations made against him were “traumatic” to him and he responded out of “panic.”
McBerry also told investigators that “he was brought before a local magistrate on allegations made by the mother [of the female student].” The judge refused to issue a warrant.
Multiple calls to the McBerry campaign on Wednesday went unreturned. But in an e-mail to supporters over the weekend, McBerry acknowledged that questions had been raised about his conduct as a teacher — “despite the fact that I retain my teaching certificate to this very day.”
McBerry continued: “To all of these charges, insinuations, ambiguities, and accusations, I state unequivocally that they are at best, false gossip, and at worst, outright lies.”
Gary Walker, deputy executive secretary for the Professional Standards Commission, said McBerry’s certificate — needed to teach in Georgia public schools — expired in June 2005, though it can be renewed.
McBerry says he now produces radio and TV ads for a living.
Carl Camon is a Democrat and five-term mayor of Ray City. Until October, Camon was a teacher at Valdosta High School.
He quit rather than submit to a five-day suspension issued by the Professional Standards Commission. “I was not going to serve a single day, a single hour, for something I didn’t do,” Camon said in phone interview on Wednesday.
The complaints were first filed against him on Sept. 18, 2007, Camon said. The candidate for governor said he was sent home for five weeks while the city school system investigated.
Camon, who is married, denies all allegations of wrongdoing, and fought the charges through a full hearing before an administrative law judge, and a second hearing before the Professional Standards Commission. Bill Cason, superintendent of the 8,000-student Valdosta city school system, declined comment, citing the possibility of further litigation.
Camon says he was set up by a group of unruly students he had disciplined. “A group of little girls in the back said, ‘Mr. Camon, we’re going to get you.’ And, buddy, they put it on me,” he said.
Camon accused the Public Standards Commission of a “witch hunt,” and said it would have no effect on his candidacy. “I’ve been kind of waiting for this to come. This is an opportunity for me to stand up as tall as I can for teachers who are innocent,” he said.
At least 22 students were interviewed, the case file indicates. The findings of fact, according to the GPSC:
“Multiple student witnesses indicated that the educator made inappropriate comments to and deliberately stared at the breasts and buttocks of multiple female students on multiple occasions. Some witnesses indicated that inappropriate comments had been whispered to students. Witnesses also observed the educator look up students’ skirts.”
In the political world, both McBerry and Camon are minor but potentially important players in their parties’ races for governor.
McBerry challenged Gov. Sonny Perdue in the 2006 primary, collecting nearly 50,000 votes — just over 11 percent of all Republican ballots cast.
Camon’s profile in the Democratic primary for governor is far lower. He has never run for statewide office before, and reported a mere $12.84 in his campaign treasury at the end of 2009.
Even so, the two primaries are so laden with candidates — seven in the GOP contest, five in the Democratic one — that better-funded competitors will be struggling to make it to a runoff. One or two percentage points could make all the difference in the world.
So the records of McBerry and Camon matter.
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