Walker County school board extended teacher's contract days after he was arrested on child porn charge

Walker County school board extended teacher's contract days after he was arrested on child porn charge

April 23rd, 2019 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Jim Barrett

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

LAFAYETTE, Ga. — Days after police arrested him on a child pornography charge, the Walker County Board of Education voted to extend eighth grade social studies teacher Jim Barrett's contract through the next school year.

The outcome of the criminal case against Barrett can alter his status with the district, Superintendent Damon Raines said Tuesday. He added that Barrett has worked away from students since Nov. 29, two weeks after police searched his Saddle Ridge Elementary and Middle School classroom, his Honda Element and his Ringgold home. In a district administrative office, Barrett has created social studies curriculum for students between third and eighth grades.

"He continues to be productive as an employee," Raines said.

Barrett, president of the Walker County Association of Educators and a critic of Raines, is accused of looking up "child erotica type material" on his work iPad. The Fort Oglethorpe Police Department arrested him on April 5. The board voted, 3-2, to extend his contract at its April 9 planning session meeting because teachers have due process rights, Raines said.

Board members Mike Carruth, Phyllis Hunter and Bobby McNabb voted to extend Barrett's contract. Board members Karen Stoker and Dale Wilson voted against keeping him on the payroll. Four of the elected officials did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday, and Hunter declined to comment.

Barrett, an employee of the district since 2006, also declined to comment. His attorney, Sanford Wallack, did not return a call or email asking about the status of Barrett's criminal case.

According to search warrant affidavits, Barrett lent his iPad to a student who needed to finish an assignment. She searched for music on YouTube and said "gay films" and "pornos" appeared. She took photos of the material on her cellphone and later showed her parents, who alerted school officials.

Walker County Schools Coordinator of Technology Scott Harden told investigators he then searched through Barrett's iPad and found "child erotica" content on YouTube, as well as entries related to young children and pornography in his Google search history. He said he also found an audio file titled, "two Arabic boys being raped."

The sheriff's office later seized Barrett's MacBook Pro, iPad and iPhone. A Georgia Bureau of Investigation forensic analyst found child pornography on at least one of those devices, Sheriff Steve Wilson said in a news release earlier this month.

Before his arrest, Barrett waged public battles with Raines. In 2014, he began to criticize the standards-based grading system that Raines implemented across the district. He then sued the board of education over its public commenting policy in March 2015. A U.S. District Court judge ruled on his side in 2016, and justices with the 11th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling a year later. The board agreed to pay Barrett's legal fees in 2018.

Principal not renewed

The board also voted, 3-2, not to renew LaFayette High School Principal Tracy Hubbert's contract during the April 9 meeting. Hubbert joined the district in May 2017 after the board declined to retain former Principal Mike Culberson, who doctored some employee emails that he forwarded to Raines.

Hunter, Stoker and Wilson voted not to renew the contract. Carruth and McNabb voted against the measure.

The day after the board's vote, Hubbert wrote on Twitter, "Even in difficult times, I am excessively blessed." Raines said Tuesday that Hubbert did not meet all of his goals for his first two years with the district. Asked what he wanted to see more of, Raines said the next principal should focus more on employee training.

An open records request for Hubbert's personnel file showed no complaints against him and did not include his performance evaluation. Raines said Hubbert's first annual evaluation is not included in his file, but he believes the principal performed well. On a scale of one-to-four, looking at eight categories, Raines said Hubbert received at least a three overall.

Raines said he has not completed an evaluation of Hubbert's second year with the district. He was unaware of any complaints against Hubbert from teachers.

"Tracy did a great job at LaFayette High School in a very unique situation he inherited," Raines said.

The day after the board's April 9 vote, Hubbert submitted a letter of resignation, effective the end of the school year. When asked why, he said, "I really can't comment on that, other than to say I appreciated the opportunity to serve at LaFayette High School the last two years and appreciate the confidence that Mr. Raines had in me."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.