Greeson: Rejecting rather than reporting student abuse our next job

Greeson: Rejecting rather than reporting student abuse our next job

February 18th, 2016 by Jay Greeson in Opinion Columns
Jay Greeson

Jay Greeson

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

A big chunk of the conversation and the testimony Monday in Hamilton County Juvenile Court about the Ooltewah assault case centered on training.

Who should have reported what and when was at the heart of the legal issues before Judge Rob Philyaw.

He decided to send the Class A misdemeanor charges against Owls coaches Andre Montgomery and Karl Williams and athletic director Jesse Nayadley to the grand jury, meaning he felt the burden of proof was met that they did not inform the Department of Children's Services of the sexual assault on four basketball freshmen during a December tournament outside Gatlinburg, Tenn.

Their lawyers seemed effective in dividing the issue into legal maneuvers around technicalities, and the vague nature of training and follow-through from the Hamilton County school system certainly was exposed.

These training sessions — like a good number of items under the school system's current leadership — seemed to be more lip service than actual student service.

There was testimony that training materials were sent by email to teachers, and that some things even required an electronic signature.

OK. And kudos to the defense attorneys for bringing that discussion to light.

Trying to figure out a way to get their clients out of legal hot water is their job, after all.

Our job in this is to remember the big prize. Our job has to be doing everything we can to make sure that no other freshman ever again has to undergo such a hideous assault.

That job falls on all of us.

That job will require changing laws by state leaders such as Sen. Todd Gardenhire, who said he was at the Monday hearing to hear how the state statute about reporting child abuse to the DCS can be improved and made more clear.

That job will require support, for our school leaders and the victims and the witnesses, who are often intimidated and scared to tell what they know out of fear of retaliation.

That job will require training, too.

But a different kind of training than was discussed Monday about reporting terror after the fact. This must address fighting such problems before we are talking to police and reading details about ruptured colons and an entire team being subjected to beatings and hazing.

This job must be every bit as important as the great work by the folks who developed Chattanooga 2.0. This job must be every bit as focused as finding ways to rebuilding our infrastructure.

This job — of making students safe — can't be overstated.

Gatlinburg Detective Rodney Burns testified Monday that all the Ooltewah basketball players he interviewed told him they were hazed or beaten. There were four freshmen who met the working end of a pool cue in Gatlinburg, but some of the other hazings and beatings happened back at the high school and even in study hall.

Yes, Chattanooga 2.0 is a stroke of brilliance that could give our city a public education plan to match the unbelievable strides we have made in so many other areas. But if one of the most well-respected public high schools in our county can't have a simple study hall in which kids are not worried about teammates or classmates bullying or hazing them, how can we expect it to succeed?

Burns detailed the pattern of hazing and called it a tradition in the Ooltewah basketball program.

A tradition of hazing. Read that again.

The training semantics and Burns' testimony — as disjointed and callous as it was — may be key reasons why the three coaches win this legal battle. But after putting harsh descriptions on the record of the tradition of hazing for the Ooltewah basketball program, Burns' testimony could very well be why those same three lose their jobs.

It also clearly defines the jobs moving forward before us: We need to figure out ways, be it laws or training or support, to prevent situations like this even more than figuring out who should have reported it.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com. His "Right to the Point" column runs on A2 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

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