Two Rutland High School teachers left a group of students unsupervised in Orlando, Fla., for several hours while the teachers went to dinner and attended a Cirque du Soleil show, Bibb County’s acting school superintendent said.
Sylvia McGee said the school district recently concluded its investigation of what happened during the field trip and and found there was “willful neglect of duty and responsibilities” by the two teacher/chaperones who were tasked with monitoring Rutland marketing students during a school field trip in February.
Seven of the students were later expelled from school for having sex and drinking alcohol during the trip, and an eighth student was expelled for supplying the alcohol.
“Seventeen students were left unsupervised for probably over three hours while they went to attend dinner and a live Cirque du Soleil show,” McGee said. “Two (chaperones) went to the show, and 17 (students) stayed” behind.
According to an attorney for one of the teachers, two other students went with the chaperones to watch the performance.
Rutland marketing teacher Thomas Bates recently resigned. The school district recommended that the other chaperone, Rutland counselor Jenny Scarborough, be fired, although she has appealed that decision.
The Telegraph filed an Open Records Act request in April for details about the Florida trip. Details were not released at the time because the school system was still investigating the case.
Rutland High’s Distributive Education Clubs of America group paid $9,200 for the attendees to stay in eight rooms at Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort, visit theme parks and a sports and entertainment marketing conference the week of Feb. 3-7.
At some point during the trip, while the chaperones were away, some of the students obtained alcohol and engaged in sexual activity with each other, school officials say.
The district did not learn of the incident until March, when a grandparent alleged to a Rutland teacher that his granddaughter had been raped on the trip. It appears that no formal police investigation was ever launched.
McGee said five of the students expelled were graduating seniors who were first told they could not walk during their graduation ceremony. After filing an appeal with the school board, those students ultimately were allowed to participate.
Bates could not be reached for comment.
Last week, a tribunal made up of three outside educators heard Scarborough’s case and agreed with the school district that she be terminated.
The Bibb County school board is set to hear the case June 17 and can approve the tribunal recommendation or recommend its own finding, McGee said.
John Philip Fox, the attorney for Scarborough, issued this statement Wednesday.
“While we respect the decision reached by the tribunal, we respectfully disagree with their recommendation of termination as a sanction,” the statement said. “At a time when our county school system is in crisis, it does not make sense to terminate our highly qualified professionals. Even Sylvia McGee agreed on the stand that Ms. Scarborough has had an exemplary career.”
The statement also said the retiring Gail Gilbert, who was Rutland High’s principal at the time of the incident, testified at the hearing that she did not discuss a safety or student-monitoring plan with Bates before the trip, and that Scarborough had never before chaperoned an overnight trip.
“As was testified to during the hearing, the attendance at the Cirque du Soleil show was planned as a reward for two students who had academically excelled during the year, and the safety and student monitoring plan used on this particular trip was the same as those used during previous Rutland DECA trips,” the statement also said.
As a result of the incident, the school system revised its field trip policy to require that teachers be trained before they chaperone students as well as implementing lower student-to-chaperone ratios.
Now, one chaperone is required for every five students for any out-of-town or overnight field trip.
The prior policy required one chaperone for every 10 students.