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State school board reverses expulsion
Student allowed back at South Forsyth High
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Forsyth County News
In a rare move, the state Board of Education has overturned the Forsyth County school district’s decision to expel a student from high school.

Donna McIntosh’s persistence has enabled her son to return to South Forsyth High School, following his dismissal last spring.

Her son, now a senior, was found guilty by a local school system tribunal for indecent exposure during a chemistry class in March.

The tribunal, a group of three administrators from different schools and a hearing officer, decides the fate of all students with discipline issues warranting more than 10 days suspension.

McIntosh unsuccessfully appealed the results of the tribunal to the school board. Though it agreed to reduce her son’s expulsion, she said, they would not revisit the question of guilt.

The state school board reversed the local board’s decision, though that has no bearing on the student’s guilt or innocence.

The state found the county denied the student his due process because he was not given an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, among other issues.

State authorities are still looking into the incident that led to his expulsion. McIntosh said her son, who faces criminal charges, has an arraignment hearing Friday.

School officials said students convicted of criminal charges are not expelled automatically.

In the meantime, McIntosh said she is more disturbed over the way the county handled her son’s case.

“My big issue with this is his life was basically destroyed for six months,” she said. “What we wanted most is for … all of this to be off his school record, because this will be very damaging to him.”

McIntosh said her son was presumed guilty even before the tribunal began.

“We went in with blind faith that this would be fair, and it was not,” she said. “Not every student who goes before a tribunal is guilty. But if you go to tribunal, you’re guilty, it doesn’t matter what evidence is presented.”

Bruce Wagar, director of school safety and discipline for the school system, disagreed.

Because tribunals are private, Wagar could not comment specifically on the student’s hearing.

He did say, however, that of the 176 tribunals during the 2008-09 school year, three or four were appealed to the local school board.

In addition to McIntosh’s son, state records show that just one local case in the past five years has been appealed to the state board.

“The disciplinary tribunal process is designed to give both the parents [student] and the school an equal opportunity to present their information,” Wagar said. “It includes more than one opportunity to appeal.”

Tribunals are held at 8:30 a.m. every Wednesday and Thursday.

During a hearing, both the school and the student present their case to the panel. Witnesses can also be called to speak on behalf of either party.

The school system is responsible for subpoenaing witnesses, per the request of the accused student or family members.

If a student is found guilty, the panel then recommends disciplinary action.

As of August, just three of 57 cases appealed to Georgia’s school board this year had been reversed.