Originally created 12/20/97

Teacher faces drug charge



One of Richmond County's "elite" teachers likely has seen his last day in an Augusta classroom after his arrest on a charge of cocaine possession.

Robert Rucci, a Hephzibah High School auto mechanics teacher, will be asked to resign as soon as school officials can contact him, Superintendent Charles Larke said Friday.

Mr. Rucci, 40, was sent home from school Wednesday morning and officially placed on administrative leave with pay Thursday after school officials learned late Tuesday of his arrest Nov. 25. He was arrested at 5:30 p.m. that day and released on $2,550 bond at 5 a.m. the next day, Richmond County sheriff's records show.

Mr. Rucci holds an Automotive Service Excellence certification, which Dr. Larke described as "the elite of auto teachers. That's something that doesn't come easily." Only one other Richmond County teacher has that certification, the superintendent said.

The school police force is still investigating Mr. Rucci's arrest. But Dr. Larke said there is little chance he will not ask the teacher to quit or face a termination hearing. Only the school board can fire a teacher after the required hearing.

"We've been trying to reach him all day to have him come in and go over the arrest and give him the chance to resign," Dr. Larke said Friday afternoon.

He and Associate Superintendent Willie Mazyck left messages on Mr. Rucci's home answering machine, but neither message was returned late Friday. The telephone company had no listing for Mr. Rucci when a reporter tried to contact him, and a number listed in a teacher directory was outdated.

Mr. Rucci has worked for the school system for a little more than six years. Dr. Larke knew of no other problems with Mr. Rucci, and Hephzibah High Principal Julian Allen did not return a phone message seeking comment.

"I am disappointed, I really am," said Dr. Larke, who, as an associate superintendent for vocational instruction, used to oversee such teachers as Mr. Rucci.

It took school officials nearly a month to learn of Mr. Rucci's arrest because he didn't tell sheriff's deputies he was a teacher, sources said. But the arrest record lists "Richmond County Board of Education" as Mr. Rucci's occupation.

Dr. Larke's staff wanted to resolve Mr. Rucci's status quickly because schools closed Friday for the two-week Christmas holiday break. Certified employees, which include teachers, must have a hearing within 10 days of being placed on administrative leave. With the break, Mr. Rucci's deadline falls on Jan. 14.

"We've always allowed people to resign," Dr. Larke said.