Have some of the folks in Columbia County's school system just flat lost their minds?
It sure seems like it. At the very least, some of them ought to be worried about losing their heads.
It is unconscionable, and inexplicable, that school officials waited more than a month to turn over to the Columbia County Sheriff's Office a report that four young girls - ages 9, 10, 11 and 11 - said they'd been groped by a substitute teacher who was watching them while the rest of their class went on a field trip.
The fact that there is any confusion, at all, is troubling. The law, and the county school system's own policy, is crystal-clear. It plainly says that if there is any question that a serious crime has occurred, the cops are to be called. It's not complicated - heck, even an elementary school principal ought to be able to figure it out.
Apparently it got past Jeanie Hill at Riverside Elementary, though she certainly isn't alone; there also are serious questions being raised about what kind of advice she got from the county's central office. In any event, Hill is a veteran known for going by the book, and should know better.
All this started when one of the girls told school officials on May 8 that the 67-year-old substitute had touched her inappropriately. Rather than wringing their hands over the possibility that it was all just a misunderstanding, school officials should have run to the nearest phone to contact the Columbia County Sheriff's Office and allow trained investigators to sort out the allegation.
Instead, the school talked to the accuser, talked to her mom, talked to her teacher and asked the central office for guidance. Nearly two weeks passed, and on the last two days of school three other girls came forward to make similar accusations - and nearly four weeks later, school officials finally called the sheriff's office.
By then, the substitute had left the country for vacation in Europe. Sheriff's Office Capt. Steve Morris says there's no suspicion that the man is trying to escape justice, but if he is, the school system sure made it easy for him.
In the meantime, what should have been one clean investigation run by the Sheriff's Office has now become messy parallel probes: One into possible crimes by the substitute, and another into the school system's ham-fisted mishandling of the case.
The best the school system can hope for is at this point that the substitute comes out clean, and that it really was all a big misunderstanding. Anything else, and the substitute may not be the only educator looking for work.
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