A former Mercer University basketball star, Aaron Geter has coached Wilkinson County’s boys basketball teams to nine state titles in the past 18 years.
But Geter, who also serves as superintendent of the county’s school system, drew a reprimand from the state’s Professional Standards Commission in 2015, the Telegraph has learned.
The PSC — Georgia’s educator watchdog agency — issued the reprimand as part of a consent order with Geter.
After a complaint was filed with the Georgia Department of Education in 2013, the PSC launched its own probe, investigating allegations that Geter had failed to report to the commission inappropriate sexual relationships between school employees and students.
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That was one of two main issues the commission investigated. Geter himself was investigated for an alleged sexual impropriety with a student who graduated in 2007. Geter was hired as principal at Wilkinson County Middle School in 1998, and he was named superintendent in 2009.
As to the allegation against Geter, a PSC investigator arranged to interview the student, but during the drive down for the interview he got a text message from her canceling the session. She said her mother had advised her not to get involved, according to the investigator’s report. The investigator tried again to call the student and her family, but none of the calls were returned.
Without the cooperation of the student or any member of her family, the investigator said, the allegation couldn’t be substantiated.
Geter’s lawyer, Charles E. Cox, said his client “flatly denies” that an inappropriate relationship existed, and the PSC dismissed the allegation before Geter’s case was referred to an administrative law judge for consideration.
“People can report anything and the PSC may investigate anything,” Cox said. “When it came down to it, there was no finding that he did anything wrong.”
Geter did not return phone messages left for him by The Telegraph.
The Georgia Professional Standards Commission sets and applies guidelines for the preparation, certification and continued licensing of public educators. Although any Georgia resident can file a complaint with the PSC, the commission must vote to investigate a claim before it moves forward. If an allegation is investigated, the commission then considers whether a sanction is appropriate. Educators can appeal any discipline that the commission imposes to an administrative law judge.
Geter received a written reprimand for failing to report an alleged sexual relationship between a student and a volunteer Wilkinson County basketball coach who also worked in the school cafeteria used by the middle and high schools, according to the consent order issued after Geter appealed his case to an administrative law judge.
The consent order includes a “finding of fact” section that Geter had been informed of a rumor that a student was having an improper relationship with the volunteer coach who worked in the cafeteria.
Without facts to substantiate the claim, Geter didn’t think the rumor constituted enough to report the case to the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, according to the order.
Here’s what else happened, according to documents in the PSC report:
Geter told a PSC investigator that the volunteer coach denied the alleged sexual relationship and any involvement with the student. The superintendent said he didn’t talk with the student or her parents.
The student reportedly told a former principal that the baby’s father was another student. Two students that the PSC interviewed said the girl had told them that the volunteer coach was the baby’s father. One of them contended that the student was protecting the coach to maintain their relationship.
The person who filed the complaint, a parent of one of the students interviewed, told the PSC that the volunteer coach was fired from his cafeteria job before the complaint was filed.
The superintendent told the PSC that he always made a “good faith effort to investigate” and determine if there was “ample evidence” to move forward before reporting an incident to other agencies.
Geter maintained that he consistently complied with making the required reports.
‘It kind of floored us’
Former Wilkinson County school board Chairman Marjo Baisden said she recalled the board receiving an anonymous letter in 2011 that contained a string of unsubstantiated allegations against Geter.
“It kind of floored us,” said Baisden, who served eight years as chairman before losing a bid for re-election last year.
Years later, they were aware when the PSC was investigating Geter, but they weren’t privy to the details of the probe, she said.
It wasn’t until the consent order was entered in Geter’s case in October 2015 that they learned the names of the people involved and details of the allegations, Baisden said. The board asked Geter about the allegations and he denied them, she said.
“We never had any reason to doubt him,” Baisden said.
Although board members had the authority to take action against Geter, they chose not to, she said.
The PSC investigation also probed allegations that Geter had failed to report to the PSC that a Junior ROTC teacher at Wilkinson County High and a math teacher at the school had inappropriate contact with a female student in 2013. One teacher was accused of kissing the student, while the other allegedly was caught on video having oral sex with her.
Both teachers entered guilty pleas to criminal charges in early 2014. The ROTC teacher was sentenced to 36 months on probation. The math teacher was sentenced to 15 years, five of them in prison, according to the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office.
Geter reported the two teachers to the PSC shortly after the agency received the complaint against him, according to the PSC investigative report.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.