Back in June when the brouhaha over the firing and subsequent dismissal hearing of Lakeside High School teacher Margaret Mudrak was still fresh, the discussion took a disturbing turn.
One of her students, 16-year-old Avery Hill, had testified during the hearing before the school board. Among other offenses, she was said to have provided too much testing help to her students - to the point that it became cheating.
Hill testified that a particularly suspicious test was indeed his, and told how she'd given him the answers.
Mudrak's attorneys didn't cross-examine Hill, who said his piece and stepped down from the stand.
Then all hell broke loose. The next day, a Facebook page popped up, purporting to be Hill's. His "status update" said he'd lied on the stand to get Mudrak fired.
Hill became the hot topic on talk radio, with armchair experts vouching for the authenticity of the page. The endless talk compounded the beating Hill was taking on the page itself, where comments were, to put it mildly, unfriendly.
After all, Mudrak was a popular veteran teacher. She also was a very active coach of the school's boys lacrosse team. That's a lot of potential human firepower, and a 16-year-old special needs kid became their target.
Hill's guardian, his grandfather, was mortified. So were the officials who had put him on the stand. Had he lied, and then gone on the Internet to brazenly brag about it?
Hill insisted he had nothing to do with that page. His grandfather brought him to the Board of Education office, where he sat with Superintendent Charles Nagle and the system's information technology director, James Van Meter, and opened his real Facebook page.
They compared it to the one that had been getting so much airtime. At least, they compared it to the images they'd captured; it had since vanished. They questioned Hill closely. They were convinced Hill had nothing to do with it - and said so.
Well. That just meant Hill got company in the virtual public pillory. It was no longer enough to bash him; Nagle and Van Meter had to take a beating, too. In addition to all the broadcast chatter, anonymous newspaper reader comments were full of self-appointed Internet gurus calling Hill a malicious liar and Nagle and Van Meter clueless dupes.
One, the ironically named "AEinstein" said "I will make a bet that this is his (Hill's) Facebook page."
Too bad no one took him up on that bet. On Monday, Columbia County investigators charged 17-year-old Roger Corey Bonsant with criminal defamation.
Bonsant is a Lakeside student. He's friends with supporters of Mudrak, some of whom are among the witnesses who were in the room when the page was created.
Gee; I'm sure that was a lot of fun - faking a Facebook page so people would want to beat up a special needs kid. Especially when your handiwork could be the basis for daily tirades against that kid, and anyone who stuck their neck out to vouch for him.
It must be one heckuva kick in the inflated ego now to find that Hill was telling the truth all along.
"He had nothing to do with this," says Columbia County Sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris. "He had no knowledge before, during or after that this (page) was created."
Many of the people who were around when that page was created, and their cheering, leering, misguided supporters, have so trashed Hill that the school system had to send him to another school.
Nice. He does what he's asked to do, testifies truthfully in a very tough case, and his "reward" is to be lied about, villified, defrauded and made to leave his own school - while those responsible barely have to skip a beat.
If there's any justice left in the world, and any shred of humanity left in his tormentors and their cheering section, they'll at least offer Avery Hill an apology.
If not? I hope his grandfather gets a lawyer and sues the pants off the jerks.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)
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