Trial of Former Chorus Teacher Raises Questions About Accountability

By Delores Amorelli, staff writer of SEOLawFirm.com’s Newsroom Column ‘In Good Practice’ – April 6, 2010

While the question of a teacher’s accountability in regard to student achievement has been asked for years, a recent court case in Georgia is forcing the American public to ask a different question about accountability: How accountable are teachers for students’ behavior in the classroom?

The case in question involves a Georgia chorus teacher, Nathan Grigsby, who recently faced five misdemeanor charges of contributing to the deprivation of a minor and being party to public indecency. [1] The charges against Grigsby were the result of an incident which occurred at Southwest DeKalb High School when three male students performed a provocative dance in his chorus class in 2008. Grigsby’s students were engaged in a chorus activity that was meant to mimic the popular show American Idol, and their risqué routine was captured on video and posted to a student’s Facebook page. [2] During the 68-second dance, several male students remove their shirts while dancing, imitate sexual acts and even grab some of the female students. [3]

Grigsby eventually stopped the students’ behavior but did not report it to the administrators at his school, choosing rather to deal with the students’ behavior himself. Charges were brought against Grigsby shortly after a parent discovered the video on Facebook, and he was fired from his position at the school.

After a brief, two-day trial, a jury acquitted Grigsby of all five misdemeanor counts, sending the message that what he did was not a crime. Grigsby’s defense argued that he did not stop the inappropriate dance immediately because he was busy helping another student and his back was to the dancers for most of the performance. [4] The three male students, who were also charged with public indecency and disrupting a public school, testified at the trial in support of their teacher. [3]

Although Grigsby has officially been acquitted and desires his old job back, the school board will not rehire him because they still believe that his behavior was highly inappropriate. DeKalb school board chairman Tom Bowen said, “The level of inappropriate behavior necessary for the district to terminate an employee is less than that which is required to be criminal.” [3]

This case raises important questions about what is expected from teachers in our society. Teacher accountability for student achievement on standardized tests is already a cornerstone of our educational policy. In fact, there has been an increased interest in several states in regard to instituting pay for performance plans that will punish or reward individual teachers rather than whole schools. However, this case shifts the focus from accountability for performance to accountability for behavior. If class sizes continue to grow, just how much can our society expect a teacher to observe and control each and every student at all times? If teachers must devote their time and attention to ensuring that all students are behaving at all times, will individual attention and learning become something of the past?

Those prosecuting Grigsby seem to suggest that not focusing on his students’ behavior closely enough is a criminal act. While the jury may have decided that Grigsby is not at fault and that his actions were not criminal, that does not mean that other cases like this will end in the same way. Teachers may end up being prosecuted for not being able to effectively monitor or control their students’ behavior. Grigsby’s case asks but does not answer one important question: Where does teacher responsibility end and student responsibility begin?

Sources

1. http://www.wctv.tv/home/headlines/89641722.html – WCTV

2. http://edition.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/03/30/georgia.dirty.dancing.trial – CNN International

3. http://www.ajc.com/news/dekalb/teacher-found-not-guilty-422729.html – Atlanta Journal Consitution

4. http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2010/04/01/Teacher-found-innocent-of-class-striptease/UPI-32251270146338/ -UPI.com