Former teacher is exonerated

ATHENS, Ga. - A former Oconee County Middle School teacher has been exonerated of charges he improperly touched two female students.

On Nov. 12 the state Professional Standards Commission dismissed a recommendation to suspend or revoke Warren Burwell's teaching license because of lack of evidence in the case, saying it considered him exonerated.

"This is an unfortunate situation where it appears the system's employees lacked the training necessary to conduct a proper investigation of the allegations," said Burwell's attorney, Michael Daniel.

Days after students told administrators about the improper touching, an Oconee County sheriff's investigator determined that any touching was "accidental" and did not seek criminal charges against Burwell.

School district administrators did not review videotaped interviews of students and did not properly interview an eyewitness, Daniel said.

"The forensic interviews reveal a number of major discrepancies between the two students' accounts of the incident, which demonstrated that the students were not truthful," he said.

In August 2008 one student alleged that Burwell had touched her breast on two occasions. The other accused Burwell of making her uncomfortable after adjusting her shirt before a photo shoot, according to the commission.

Even though a polygraph test backed up Burwell's claims that he was innocent, he said he decided to resign to protect the students instead of fighting a recommendation that he be fired.

"I would have (had) to discredit these students in a public forum," Burwell said. "It would have been a public circus. My calling in education was to help students, not to discredit them."

With the allegations cleared by the PSC, Burwell plans to seek another job as a teacher.

"I would like to think the county school system would give me my job back, but if not I will be able to find a job elsewhere. I am eager to return to the classroom and continue to help educate our children."

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