Harlem High teacher quits after student sex allegation

JROTC instructor, 57, under investigation
Mitchell Sivas

Harlem High School’s senior Junior ROTC instructor has resigned while under investigation involving a reported sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student.

Mitchell Sivas, 57, a Thomson resident and retired Army lieutenant colonel, resigned March 4 when confronted by Harlem Principal Dietmar Perez, said Columbia County school Superintendent Charles Nagle.

Under Georgia law, a sexual relationship between a student and teacher from the same school is illegal even if the student is past the age of consent, said Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris.

There is no indication any such activity took place in Columbia County, however, and Thomson police investigating the incident say they believe no crime took place.

Harlem’s principal learned of the allegations after the girl’s father discovered she was at Sivas’ Michael Street home on March 3, Nagle said.

According to a Thomson police report obtained by The McDuffie Mirror, officers questioned the teen and Sivas after finding her at his home. They denied there was a sexual relationship, although each professed “strong feelings” for each other.

Thomson Police contacted Toombs Judicial Circuit District Attorney Dennis Sanders, according to the report, and “upon reviewing the information, it revealed there had not been any criminal activity committed at the time this report was filed.”

In a report filed two days later with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, the teen “did finally admit to having a sexual relationship with … Sivas.”

By the time that report was filed, Perez had already called Sivas to tell him not to return to school, Nagle said.

Sivas responded that he had already visited the school, cleaned out his desk and left a letter of resignation behind.

“He knew he had messed up,” Nagle said.

Sanders said that while the case remains under investigation, and despite the girl’s admission to Columbia County authorities that they had had sex, he still doubts there is a case.

“From what they tell me, there’s no evidence of sexual contact,” Sanders said.

Sanders conceded he is unsure of the law prohibiting sexual contact between students and teachers and said he also isn’t sure whether prosecution of a crime would be under the jurisdiction of the school’s location or of the location where the activity took place.

“There’s a lot of it that’s kind of confusing,” Sanders said. “I just told them to turn it over to Harlem High School.”

Morris said that additional statements from the girl are being collected and will be turned over to Thomson police and that it will be up to them to pursue charges.

“But if we found out something happened here, we’re charging him,” Morris said.

The school system has reported Sivas to the state teacher licensing board, Nagle said.

Though there are no indications that any activities took place at the school, Perez filed the subsequent report with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office out of an abundance of caution, Nagle said.

The teen was not a Junior ROTC student, he said.

Sivas has been Harlem High’s senior Junior ROTC instructor since he was hired in 2011, after previously serving as a Junior ROTC instructor at Grady High School in Atlanta.

Before this incident, Sivas already had planned to leave Harlem High at the end of the school year. He had given notice that he was leaving to take a similar position with higher pay at Hephzibah High School, Nagle said.

According to the Harlem High School Junior ROTC Web site, Sivas is a 26-year veteran who served in Airborne, Air Assault and Special Operations units and “served several combat assignments with Special Forces.”

Harlem’s Junior ROTC team, along with others in the area, is scheduled to compete in this weekend’s JROTC State Drill Meet at Fort Gordon. Nagle said the students likely would continue as planned under instructor Willie Boston.

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