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High court weighs local teachers appeal
Student injured in science lesson in 04
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Forsyth County News

East Hall at West Forsyth

By: Jim Dean

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It could be summer before the Georgia Supreme Court decides whether to allow a Forsyth County science teacher’s appeal to proceed.

The court heard arguments Monday in Patricia Grammens’ case, which contends the Georgia Court of Appeals was wrong to reverse a Forsyth County State Court judge’s decision in her favor.

The issue stems from a lawsuit filed against her by the father of one of her former eighth-grade science students.

The student, David Dollar, suffered injuries to his right eye during a May 2004 experiment at South Forsyth Middle School.

Attorneys on both sides of the issue declined to comment on the matter.

Jane Hansen, Georgia Supreme Court spokeswoman, said the court has up to six months to decide whether Grammens’ appeal will proceed to trial.

According to court documents, Grammens found the experiment on a NASA Web site. It used air pressure to launch a plastic bottle like a rocket.

Grammens’ students built the launcher, which used a metal pin to hold down the bottle’s neck until enough pressure had built up to send it soaring.

Grammens allowed Dollar, who was 14 at the time, to pull a string that was part of the launching mechanism. The experiment failed and when he tried a second time, a metal pin flew into his eye.

None of the students, including Dollar, or Grammens were wearing goggles or any other type of eye protection, documents show.

At that time the county board of education had an “eye protection policy,” which followed a state law and required students wear protective eye devices “at all times while participating in or observing ... physical or any other course of instruction involving any of the following ... caustic or explosive materials.”

Grammens’ lawyers contend the Appeals Court was wrong to determine the policy applied to the experiment since there were no explosive materials involved, just air and water.

They also argue that if the court’s decision is allowed to stand, teachers will have to abandon their discretion and assume “that if they don’t always make students wear goggles, they could be held liable.”

Dollar’s lawyer argued in briefs that it is “difficult, if not impossible, to think of anything much simpler or more absolute than requiring a student to wear safety goggles when launching a rocket.”

The statement also shows that the NASA instructions warned there was a risk the bottle could explode if the experiment was not conducted properly.

Court records show Dollar’s father, John Dollar, sued Grammens as well as former South Middle Principal Deborah Sarver, the local school board and then Superintendent Paula Gault for negligence in 2006.

Sarver and Grammens have since moved to Lakeside Middle School. Gault retired in 2007.

According to court documents, none of the four surgeries David Dollar had by the time the complaint was filed restored his eye to the condition it was in before the experiment and he likely will suffer from the injury for the rest of his life.

Dollar’s complaint maintained that the defendants did not enforce requirements that students wear protective eye devices in such situations and did not provide goggles or any other type of safety gear to the students.

Forsyth County State Court Judge Phillip Smith dismissed the lawsuits on the basis that all of the defendants were acting in a discretionary capacity.

According to Supreme Court documents, discretionary acts require someone’s “deliberation and judgment, and a response that is not specifically directed.”

State law gives public employees, including teachers, immunity from being held personally liable for discretionary acts. They can, however, be held responsible for ministerial acts. Ministerial acts are defined as simple, absolute and definite and require the execution of a specific duty.

School system spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo declined to comment on the pending case.

She did say, however, that the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that Grammens’ failure to require the students to use eye protection was a violation of ministerial duty imposed by state law and local policy.

However, the appeals court upheld the decisions for Gault, Sarver and the board.