Fulton Co. Schools incurs $1M in legal bills in abuse case - CBS46 News

Fulton Co. Schools incurs $1 million in legal bills in student abuse case

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FULTON COUNTY, GA (CBS46) -

"It's an abject waste," said attorney Chris Vance, of the estimated $1 million the Fulton County School District has incurred defending itself against lawsuits brought by former students allegedly abused by their teacher.

"It's one thing to litigate vigorously a case. It's another to abuse the entire process and that's what I believe the Fulton County School District is doing," claimed Vance.

Vance represents three disabled former students of Melanie Pickens, a former special-education teacher at Hopewell Middle School in Milton from 2004 to 2007.

Pickens was arrested and charged with physically and mentally abusing her students by shoving them into lockers, screaming into their ears, passing gas in their faces and restraining and isolating them in the dark.

The school district settled one lawsuit brought by a former student for an undisclosed amount but according to Vance, Fulton County Schools has declined to offer similar settlements to other victims, which forces the families to take the district to court.

"The only people who are benefiting are the lawyers. It's ridiculous," said Mark Lee.

Lee's son Garrett, 22, can't talk and was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder after spending three years in Pickens' classroom.

Lee said Fulton County Schools has refused to pay what he believes is appropriate therapy to help Garrett recover from the abuse.

"For the senior officials to be dragging their feet and not taking action on this and to help these poor children is crazy. The first thing we should be doing is, help the children. They are the ones who suffered," said Lee.

"I need professional help for him and I'm not able to give him everything he needs," said Shayne Lee, Garrett's mother.

In a statement to CBS Atlanta News, the school board said, "We take our responsibility to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars very seriously. It would be fiscally irresponsible and a waste of taxpayers' dollars to accept legal demands that are far beyond what is appropriate."

Vance, who represents Garrett Lee, said his family is not asking for anything unreasonable and accused the district's attorneys of dragging out the process and incurring additional costs by refusing to allow previous testimony and depositions to be used in an upcoming hearing.

"Even if they didn't want to agree that they owed this child any education, if they wouldn't fight the facts that are already known we would probably save $400,000," said Vance.

In a court hearing next week, the school district will argue that Lee's suit should be dismissed because it was filed outside the statute of limitations.

Vance told CBS Atlanta News that the district is mistaken and pointed out the district still has not notified parents of the alleged abuse that occurred more than six years ago.

A hearing on Pickens' criminal charges is scheduled for January.

Here is the full statement provided by the Fulton County Board of Education:

Fiscal responsibility of taxpayer dollars is always a priority for the Fulton County school board. The school board is extremely diligent and cautious about how funds are spent. If you've followed our recent budget season, you know that we adopted a new budgeting approach that closely aligns funding to district priorities – forcing staff to develop budgets from the bottom up and based on demonstrated need rather than approving incremental increases or decreases. We take our responsibility to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars very seriously. In regards to the legal matter you referenced, we are obligated to follow a process to determine what's appropriate. It would be fiscally irresponsible and a waste of taxpayers' dollars to accept legal demands that are far beyond what is appropriate.

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