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Liberty County BoE denies appeal of students expulsion

A Liberty County High School student will remain expelled after losing his appeal of a decision by a school system tribunal hearing stemming from an allegedly threatening text message sent to his ex-girlfriend, also an LCHS student.

Dalton Turner will appeal Tuesday’s decision by the Liberty County Board of Education to the State Board of Education.

The ex-girlfriend filed for a restraining order against Turner, which his father, David Turner, said led to his son getting suspended from school for 10 days.

At the Jan. 28 tribunal hearing, according to Dalton Turner and his family, when asked if he was guilty, Turner said “yes” because a message was transmitted from his phone. Turner said he was not able to give his testimony and explain that the content of the message was not a threat, nor have character witnesses speak on his behalf. He was found guilty at the tribunal hearing and expelled.

A Facebook page called “Bring Dalton Back to LCHS” had 249 “likes” as of Saturday afternoon.

“When I walked in there, I mentioned to them in the beginning that I had a statement and if I could speak my statement when they asked if I was guilty,” Turner said. “They said no. At the end, I asked again if I could speak my statement. They said, ‘You should have told us in the beginning.’”

David Turner said his son was given the option to attend Horizons Learning Center to finish his senior year. Dalton Turner is a member of the LCHS Panther Band and would no longer able to participate in extracurricular activities if he attended Horizons.

Horizons is the district’s alternative school. The school lists several goals, including “provide students with methods to remediate social and emotional deficits,” “provide academic as well as behavior interventions to ensure success” and “provide an avenue for struggling non-traditional students to become high school graduates.”

Turner went to court on Feb. 1 over the restraining order filed against him. The judge dismissed the order after the ex-girlfriend recanted her statement. She told the judge that Dalton did not threaten her, David Turner said.

Efforts by the Courier to find a point of contact for the ex-girlfriend were unsuccessful.

Dalton Turner appealed the tribunal’s decision to the Liberty County Board of Education.

The board heard the appeal during executive session, which is closed to the public, at its Tuesday evening meeting. Attorney Jonathan Gaskin, who was not present at the tribunal hearing, said he tried to present to the board the court’s findings, but was told that the board could not consider any new evidence after the first tribunal. Friends and family waited for about an hour in the board room for the decision.

The school system’s Code of Conduct says the Board of Education only can review the record of the tribunal hearing and “shall not consider any other evidence in ruling on the appeal.” It does say the board “may find the facts to be different than those found by the hearing tribunal/officer and the Board may change the punishment, in accordance with state law.”

In a 5-0 vote, with member Marcia Anderson abstaining and Marcus Scott IV absent, the tribunal’s original decision was upheld. Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee declined to comment on the board’s decision.

“Had he been able to provide the transcript now, I don’t think there would be any issue to be resolved. But that’s the procedure that they go by. But, unfortunately, he’s bound by it,” Gaskin said.

The family’s next step is to appeal the decision to the Georgia State Board of Education. Gaskin said the family has 30 days to file an appeal, but does not know if a hearing can be scheduled in time before graduation. The objective is to get the expulsion removed from Turner’s transcript so he can attend college. He wants to attend Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Georgia, to earn a music ministry degree.

Older brother Alan Turner described Dalton Turner as a “really good kid” who had never gotten in trouble and is the total opposite of what he was like in high school.

Lina Turner, Dalton Turner’s mother said, “I’m going to fight it, and I won’t give up.”

Gaskin said he does not think the alleged threat warranted an expulsion and that Dalton Turner could have returned to school on strict probation and been monitored.

The Code of Conduct lists “assault (verbal) of other students, including threatening violence or sexual harassment” as an “inappropriate or disruptive behavior that can be punished up to and including expulsion, depending on the seriousness of the threat.

“The problem is this: When people go to their first hearing, if you don’t present your side of the story, you won’t be able to present your side of the story,” Gaskin said. “If you’ve got an administrative hearing for a disciplinary procedure, you’ve got to present all your facts, all your evidence, at that first hearing.”

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