If ever a story needed closure, it is the sordid tale of Thryshaun McCladdie and the serial assaults he committed while attending Greenbrier High School.
Closure came literally last week in the form of a prison door, slammed shut by Judge Albert M. Pickett. Accepting a guilty plea from McCladdie on charges of child molestation and misdemeanor sexual battery, Pickett threw the book at the 20-year-old ex-student, sentencing him to the maximum 21 years in prison.
Under the Georgia parole board's current sentencing guidelines that require some inmates to serve at least 90 percent of their sentences, McCladdie's conviction on a child molestation charge means he won't be eligible for release until the year 2022. By then he'll be 38 years old.
It's tempting in such a case to lament the loss of a promising young life. After all, sending a high-school student to prison means he'll really get an education now, and virtually none of it will be in subjects useful to society.
Unfortunately, it is evident that McCladdie's life lost its promise years ago. In spite of a mollycoddling system that kept giving McCladdie second chances over and over again, McCladdie never progressed beyond the level of high-school bully. His police record is atrocious, adding fuel to the fire from his juvenile and school discipline record that can only lead to the conclusion that McCladdie had no business being in any school without bars and armed guards.
Now that McCladdie will be "schooled" in such a place for the foreseeable future, closure is needed for his former campus. Some people have reacted to his sentencing last week as if it's a sudden new development, reflecting poorly on the county's school system in general and on Greenbrier High School in particular.
The important perspective, however, is that the last of these incidents for which McCladdie was sentenced occurred in the 2002-03 school year. His final arrest, following a snowballing series of allegations of on-campus thuggery, came exactly one year ago today, which actually means last week's plea agreement moved the wheels of justice at what these days passes for surprising speed.
As a result, any school system action in response to McCladdie's case has already been taken. While virtually no one expects any improvement from McCladdie's wasted life, some would argue this sordid episode has taught the school system a few lessons.
A recent series of arrests backs up the claim. While it certainly doesn't look good to see kids hauled off in handcuffs for carrying knives at school or for writing "hit lists" on bathroom walls, the fact that the students are caught and arrested says a lot about how vigilant the schools have become.
Riverside Middle School Assistant Principal Don Putnam deserves special credit for bringing in Columbia County sheriff's deputies to explain the seriousness of such behavior, in addition to warning students about consensual sex among teens being treated as criminal behavior. Other schools would do well to emulate Putnam's proactive stance.
Still, however, there are signs that the schools have further to go. The school system used a loophole in the state's school violence reporting system to keep McCladdie's case out of Green-brier's "safe schools" record; with his guilty plea conviction, an amendment to that record is certainly expected.
Why the reluctance? Schools have little incentive, other than public pressure, to openly and honestly report on-campus violence -- especially the lower-level cases in which police aren't notified. After all, too many check-marks on state and federal forms can brand a school as "unsafe," even though those checks may actually indicate the effects of a tough, zero-tolerance policy at work.
The public, little by little, has applied pressure to Columbia County's schools to be more open about campus violence, and while the schools have sometimes been squeamish, the atmosphere clearly has become safer and has encouraged students to help police themselves by reporting suspicious or violent activity from their peers.
One thing is sure: Columbia County schools are demonstrably safer with Thryshaun McCladdie not attending them. That's the real closure in this case.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.