Gilmer High teacher Nathan Sutton was arrested and subsequently resigned after the school learned he allegedly had an “inappropriate relationship” with a 2020 graduate.
The Times-Courier was informed of the situation last Wednesday by superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs.
“We had a student who graduated in May contact (principal) Mrs. (Carla) Foley to tell her a friend, who also graduated in May, who is a female student, told them they had been having an inappropriate relationship with one of the high school teachers, Mr. Nathan Sutton, who taught audio, video and film,” Downs said.
“We were able to get the contact number for the student that allegedly was saying she had an inappropriate relationship with that teacher and had been influenced by that teacher. Mrs. Foley contacted me, and I instructed her to contact the student and see if the student would be willing to come in and give a statement so we can investigate these allegations.”
The former student agreed to meet and Downs contacted Sheriff Stacy Nicholson. Downs was present during the interview with investigators.
“She agreed to meet with Mrs. Foley and the investigators at the same time,” Downs said. “I sat in on that interview. As soon as she finished telling her side of the story, I went and made contact with Mr. Sutton and placed him on administrative leave. I told him to only gather his personal belongings and exit the building, which he did without incident.
“The detectives made contact with him last (Tuesday) night. He admitted to having an inappropriate relationship with the female student over the course of several years while she was in high school. They arrested him last night and booked him in the Gilmer County jail.”
Downs made her way to the jail Wednesday morning and Sutton resigned.
“I told the teacher I intended to terminate,” Downs said. “He asked to resign, and I accepted his resignation immediately because if I did termination, he would be entitled to a hearing (and would continue to receive a pay check). So, I went ahead and accepted his resignation right there.”
Discussion held at board of education meeting
The resignation was formally voted on and accepted by 4 to 0 tally at the board of education’s meeting last Thursday. However, it did not occur until after roughly 15 minutes of discussion.
Vice chairman Ronald Watkins was not satisfied with the resignation option.
“I’m still upset we’ve taken his resignation instead of firing his ass,” Watkins said. “If we can’t fire nobody for what he done, this is over with; I’m sorry.”
He added, “I’m real upset because this has been going on up there and people knew about it. They had to know about it. Some of these people up there know about it and didn’t say nothing. They had to know about it. I have a real problem with it.”
Downs was asked during a Monday phone interview if she knew of Sutton’s alleged relationship with the former student.
“No,” she responded before adding, “No one ever said that anybody knew. I think what he (Watkins) was trying to get across that didn’t come across in so many words was, ‘How could this be going on without someone knowing?’ That’s basically what he was saying.”
Watkins also stated at the meeting, “I know he got brought in and talked to about it one time. I have a problem with it. I have a big problem with it.”
When asked about a previous discussion with Sutton regarding his behavior, Downs said, “I really don’t know what he (Watkins)was talking about. I think sometimes when people are heated in what they’re talking about they just say things.”
At the meeting, Downs said if the board wished to terminate a hearing would need to be held.
“With the new policy update with Title IX, this wouldn’t be considered a sexual harassment type case because the victim has already graduated,” Downs said. “That further complicates it. I’m not sure how you move forward with a termination once someone has already resigned.”
The newly enacted Title IX legislation “extends many new protections against sexual harassment, and strongly safeguards the rights of all students, including the right to due process,” according to the U.S. Department of Education’s website.
Board member Tom Ocobock added, “I’ve got to agree with Ronald. I think (Sutton) needs to be terminated so he does not have the opportunity to do this again.”
Downs assured the board preventative steps had been taken.
“I have filed a complaint with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission requesting to pull his certificate based on Ethics Standards II (conduct with students),” she said.
“If it were an educational institution (who began the process of hiring Sutton), and they looked at the PSC, that report I made this morning would be there. So whether we terminate or he resigns for this, it’s not going to make a difference for him applying for another job.”
Ocobock responded, “Personally, as long as I know in my heart he can not do this again, then I’m OK with the resignation.”
Downs also pointed to the financial aspect.
“All I’m saying is that as far as him getting another job, whether we terminate or he resigns, it really makes no difference. But it does make a difference how much we pay and what it costs us in legal fees and what hoops we have to jump through as the result of the Title IX legislation that went into effect Aug. 14.”
Watkins growing increasingly frustrated with the proceedings said, “If you want to know what’s wrong with the government, right here it is. With the school system and the government and the way things are done. I’m just real discouraged with this process, the last process (resignation of assistant superintendent Stuart Sheriff) and everything. You got people out here talking about us (the board).”
He added, “You fire people. I live in the real world. I get fired if I done something like this. I’d be in jail and I’d be fired. Ain’t nothing I can do about it.”
Downs mentioned again that termination was an option, but Sutton would be afforded due process and receive his salary until the hearing was completed. Conversely, because he resigned, he is no longer a paid employee.
“I want to know how bad something’s got to be before I can fire someone?” Watkins asked.
“We can table this, we can have a called meeting and we can have the attorneys come in,” Downs offered. “But before we can make that happen, he would still be an employee of Gilmer County Schools because we did not accept his resignation.”
When asked for his opinion by Ocobock, fellow board member Doug Pritchett said, “I think we should move on with the resignation.”
“There’s no reason to go through something like that (termination process and hearing) when he’s already resigned,” board chairman Michael Bramlett said.
“He’s already in jail,” board member Jim Parmer added.
A motion was made to accept Sutton’s resignation and it was seconded. However, before the vote could take place, Watkins made a motion to terminate Sutton.
With two motions on the floor, Watkins’ was not seconded and died.
Bramlett, Ocobock, Parmer and Pritchett all voted to accept Sutton’s resignation.
When asked for his vote, Watkins said, “I abstain. See, now I’m turning out to look like the bad guy.”
Ocobock responded, “You’re not looking like the bad guy, Ronald. You’ve got to think about what it’s going to cost the school board and the disruption at the high school now that we have to replace him to keep that program going. The quicker we can do that, the smoother the school year is going to be in a crazy world anyhow.”