School inquiry goes on quietly

It was levied against then-Superintendent Charles Larke as a reason he should be fired, it was the reason a principal was transferred and it's part of the reason Murphey Middle School sat in limbo for a time.

And nearly a year later, the investigation into the underreporting of discipline problems at Murphey Middle has grown quiet.

In May, it was announced that nearly 500 disciplinary incidents should have been reported by Murphey Middle officials when only 15 had been. The number of unreported incidents grew to about a thousand by August.

Despite the seriousness of the allegations, no report has been made to the school board in a while. Board members Helen Minchew, Barbara Pulliam and Joe Scott, all of whom were on the board when the investigation started, said they haven't heard anything about the investigation in months.

"I do not know anything with regards to that investigation," Mrs. Minchew said. "Nothing has come back to us in quite some time."

Some board members called for Dr. Larke's termination, saying he was dragging his feet on investigating the unreported disciplinary problems. But he has contended that he launched an investigation immediately after meeting with the grandmother of a Murphey Middle pupil in February 2005.

The last report to the board was in August, when members voted to transfer Principal Tonethia Beasley from Murphey Middle to Ursula Collins Elementary School after an internal investigation by James Thompson, who now serves as interim superintendent.

Board attorney Pete Fletcher took over the investigation at that point because it took on a criminal nature. On Friday, he said the investigation should be coming to a close soon.

In the meantime, schoolchildren also have been affected by the investigation.

Murphey Middle had undergone restructuring, and staff members were pushing forward with plans to convert the school into a charter school.

The Georgia Department of Education, however, put a stop to those plans, preferring to wait for the investigation to wrap up.

With a new principal in place, the school is again inching toward becoming a charter school, said Pat Burau, the assistant superintendent for school improvement.

A new charter application has been written, and the school has started fresh on its efforts with hopes of receiving state approval in April, she said Friday.

The Murphey Middle investigation first became public in April, when Dr. Larke said "clerical errors" might have led to some disciplinary incidents not being reported.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.