Originally created 09/23/99

Educator resigns amid complaints



North Augusta High School's head soccer coach resigned suddenly Monday, and the principal said the teacher is being investigated for unprofessional conduct.

Aiken County school board attorney William Burkhalter issued a statement Wednesday confirming that a faculty member was investigated for conduct toward a female student that might have been unprofessional but not criminal. He would not say whether the person involved was economics teacher and soccer coach Thomas Christopher Hughes.

However, Principal Rosie Berry confirmed that Mr. Hughes was the faculty member investigated, adding that she conducted the initial investigation herself and then turned it over to the school district office.

Mrs. Berry added that Mr. Hughes was "a fine teacher."

Mr. Burkhalter initially wouldn't confirm the internal investigation. Neither would Superintendent Linda B. Eldridge.

Two school board members from the North Augusta area said Dr. Eldridge informed them of the investigation but gave them no details. Specifics of the case are expected to be shared with board members in a closed-door session.

The Augusta Chronicle found that Mr. Hughes had resigned by filing a request under the South Carolina's Freedom of Information Act. He had worked for the school district since August 1996 and taught at North Augusta High for just over two years. His first teaching assignment in Aiken County was at Jackson Middle School.

Mr. Hughes, 28, said he is acting on legal advice not to comment until the issue is resolved.

Mrs. Berry would not divulge the nature of the allegation against Mr. Hughes.

"It was just a case where we had to make sure the environment was conducive for all kids to learn," Mrs. Berry said. "The focus has to be in the students' best interest to learn. Anytime you think a student's ability to learn is taken away, you have to take notice."

Internal investigations occur when school officials think a parent, student or employee has a complaint about anything from grading policies to professional conduct.

Dr. Eldridge offered no explanation of the incident except to say her office goes to great lengths to investigate complaints when they're brought to administrators.

"I will say unequivocally that anytime the administration of this school district receives a complaint of any nature from a student or an employee, that complaint will be promptly and thoroughly investigated," she said.

"Appropriate correction, if warranted, will be taken to address the grievance or concern. That has been and will continue to be the commitment of the Aiken County schools administration."

Staff Writer Patrick Green contributed to this article.

Reach Chasiti Kirkland at (803) 279-6895.