Fulton County Schools sued again for alleged abuse cover-up - CBS46 News

Fulton County Schools sued again for alleged abuse cover-up

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Repheka Persadi, 20, and her mother have filed a federal lawsuit alleging a teacher abused her at Hopewell Middle School in Milton and district officials covered it up.

The suit is the latest in a string of legal challenges brought against Fulton County Schools claiming it mishandled the abuse of special-needs students by former teacher Melanie Pickens. 

According to the lawsuit, Pickens repeatedly abused students by screaming at Repheka and other children daily, burping in their faces, shaking her breasts and pressing them in their faces, pressing her buttocks in their faces, cursing at the students and spraying Repheka with Lysol after she passed gas.

"You can't trust them anymore. You can't trust your children to the system anymore," said Repheka's mother, Franka, in 2011.

She said at the time that she believed the abuse explains why her daughter became sad, withdrawn and jumpy.

"They've been hiding stuff. It's disgraceful. It makes you feel like you're nobody."

CBS Atlanta's investigation revealed school officials knew Pickens was abusing children for five years. After the district investigated in 2007, it removed Pickens and former principal Frances Boyd from the school. The district did not report the abuse to students' parents or police.

After CBS Atlanta reported on the abuse, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced the launch of a criminal investigation by police in November 2011. 

A year later, Howard said in a statement, "my team of attorneys and investigators are working to exhaustion to ensure that no stone is left unturned in this matter."

"I want to have hope and believe that something's going to be done, but it's been a year," said Ronald Hatcher, father of a student allegedly abused by Pickens.

Hatcher's son, Aaron, who was medically fragile, died in 2011. 

"Get her arrested," Hatcher said forcefully.

Hatcher filed a $10 million federal lawsuit against the Fulton County School District, the Fulton County Board of Education, Pickens and Boyd.

A CBS Atlanta investigation uncovered a district document from 2007 that alleges Pickens hit, shoved and kicked students; slammed one boy into lockers almost daily; and restrained and isolated students in dark rooms.  According to the report, teachers say Pickens cursed at students and passed gas and burped in their faces. Most of the students were unable to speak.

Hatcher said he believes school officials should be held accountable for allegedly covering up the abuse and not reporting it to authorities. 

The Fulton County School District settled a lawsuit with the family of former student Jake Marshall for an undisclosed amount.

The district has also been ordered to pay the future education and therapy costs for another student, Alex Williams.

During Williams' hearing in state administrative court, staff testified that school leaders knew Pickens was abusing students and did not prevent it. A Fulton County School police officer said he was instructed not to pursue a criminal investigation. 

Attorney Chris Vance, who represents Marshall, Williams and other former Hopewell students, said more than a dozen school leaders should be held accountable.

"The school resource officers were aware. Top administrators were aware. Everyone was knowledgeable about this and allowed it to happen for five years over and over and over. There's got to be consequences," said Vance.

Hatcher has filed a lawsuit against Fulton County Schools for the abuse Aaron allegedly suffered at Hopewell and then Roswell High School. According to the suit, the latter abuse contributed to Aaron's death last year.

"It'll send the message you can't do this to special-needs students because they can't talk," said Hatcher.

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