Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones/file
Tony Price—the Cedar Shoals High School principal who was suspended and faces firing after an alleged sexual assault at the school in January—is speaking out about the incident and says central office administrators and Clarke County School District police, not Price, are responsible for mishandling it.
Since the alleged sexual assault was made public in February, CCSD administrators have said that Price did not follow the district’s code of conduct by failing to suspend the three students who are accused of raping a classmate in a stairwell at the school.
Now, Price has told his side of the story, and it differs on several key points from the district's—including who was ultimately responsible for students' safety and whether Price could have disciplined the accused students before the police investigation took its course.
In a statement to Flagpole by his attorney, Michael Daniel of the law firm Prior, Daniel & Wiltshire, Price maintained that he did follow the code of conduct. He blamed district police for ignoring his requests to beef up security and not keeping him informed of the investigation, and said Superintendent Philip Lanoue made him the scapegoat.
“The superintendent has a duty to address the issue of sexual assault and create a comprehensive response, but he failed to meet his duty, rather he chose to cast blame on a subordinate,” Daniel said.
Price said the investigation was conducted by district and Athens-Clarke County police, and he played no role. He was never briefed on the investigation and did not even know the names of two of the three accused students until they were arrested. A vice principal gave him the name of one individual, he said, who contended that the incident was consensual.
“The information provided to Dr. Price was very limited,” Daniel said. “It appears law enforcement was in the same dilemma, as they did not immediately make an arrest.”
While Price contends that the superintendent is responsible for security, principals are responsible for “total operations” at their schools, including providing a safe learning environment, CCSD Director of Public Relations Anisa Sullivan Jimenez said.
She said she did not know whether police ever briefed Price, but communication between police and principals is something the district is looking into.
“That’s part of what we’ve discussed, and we’ll have to be really explicit about that moving forward,” Jimenez said in an interview. She also provided a written response; both it and Daniel's statement are posted in full below.
ACC police have said it took them weeks to pull a video off a malfunctioning security system that corroborated the victim’s statements. Initially, they said they believed the camera was not working. Price said he was under the same impression.
Price said he could not suspend the one student whose identity he knew because, to do so, he would have had to treat the matter as consensual, forcing him to suspend the victim as well.
“Because of the serious nature of this alleged crime, Dr. Price was wise to wait until the investigation was completed, or at least arrests were made,” Daniel said. “Dr. Price notes that the CCSD has no policy on dealing with disputed alleged sexual assault charges. However, he did exactly what Title IX of the federal law requires, which is to insure [sic] the matter is reported to law enforcement."
Jimenez, however, said that Price should have conducted his own investigation and could have suspended the accused students for up to 10 days, pending a hearing that could lead to expulsion, without also suspending the victim. Price was aware on Jan. 18 that the camera recorded the incident but still took no action, Jimenez said. The three accused students were not arrested until nearly two weeks later.
Price also disputed top administrators’ statements that no one ever adequately communicated the severity of the attack to them or followed up until media outlets began reporting on it almost a month later. According to Price, the school did its duty by immediately notifying district police, who notified the central office and involved ACCPD.
“Dr. Price submits that the superintendent and the executive director of student support services should have provided guidance, wisdom and support, just like they have done before when serious incidents occurred in the district,” Daniel said. “However, the superintendent and the executive director of student support services abstained from being involved.
“Dr. Price did exactly as he was trained to do, which was to insure [sic] the incident was reported to school district law enforcement, the security arm of the superintendent. He also insured [sic] the school’s counselor engaged the victim’s family to address any needs the victim of the incident might have had and that she was taken to a local hospital.”
Price also notified “district administration” directly, according to Daniel. Jimenez, though, said she found “no evidence” that Price reported the incident directly. Price reported directly to Executive Director of Student Services Ernest Hardaway, but Hardaway never even received the initial email from CCSD Chief of Police Fred Stephens the day after the attack, according to Jimenez.
Several top administrators, including Lanoue and Jimenez, did receive that initial email, and Jimenez passed it on to school board members. No one ever followed up, Jimenez acknowledged.
“Certainly this has prompted us to look at our internal procedures,” she said, while noting that in the past the existing procedures have always resulted in follow-ups to serious crimes on school grounds.
Price said he wished that higher-ups had involved themselves sooner, and that the public should have been informed in a timely fashion. Jimenez responded that she did not receive a public letter Price drafted until Feb. 4; a version of that letter was released the following day.
Finally, Price said that he had been asking for additional security for years. He said he learned of the outdated camera in the stairwell and had been asking for a new security system since as early as 2011, but Frank Platt, then CCSD’s police chief, told him no money was budgeted. (Emails obtained by Flagpole corroborate this.) In 2013 he again asked that broken cameras be replaced but was denied. He was also denied when he asked for fill-ins for sick security staff and for the same number of security staffers on half-days as full days.
Jimenez said security requests were approved "when appropriate," but some involved administrative rather than security matters, such as increased lunchroom monitoring. In addition, Lanoue has sinced announced plans to beef up security at Cedar Shoals.
Price remains on administrative leave and has been replaced by Derrick Maxwell, formerly the principal at Whit Davis Elementary School, on an interim basis. Jimenez said she didn't know when the internal investigation would be finished.
Here is Daniel's full statement on behalf of Price:
Superintendent Philip D. Lanoue placed Dr. Price, the Principal of CSHS, on administrative leave after allegations were made that three male students sexually assaulted a female student on the grounds of CSHS.
Dr. Price wishes to convey to the community that he was devastated by the news of the incident when it was first reported to him on January 7, 2016, and he remains overwhelmed by the thought that such a violent act could occur at Cedar Shoals. He would like to express his deepest sympathies and continuing concern for the victim and her family.
Dr. Price submits that the circumstances surrounding the security at CSHS is a matter of great public concern. This release is intended to notify the public of security issues at CSHS and correct false information and misinformation released to the public.
Security at Cedar Shoals High School.
Dr. Price submits that the Superintendent’s response to this incident is nothing more than an attempt to shift the blame to Dr. Price, despite the fact that the incident may have been prevented, but for a failure of leadership by the Superintendent concerning school security. Dr. Price notes that security at all schools, including CSHS, is provided by the District and the School’s security, not the Principal of the School. The CCSD Policy states: “… the Board directs the superintendent to implement administrative regulations to provide for the physical safety and security of School District facilities and property. The Board also authorizes and directs the superintendent to establish a Police Department. Nothing in this policy shall prohibit the superintendent from securing additional law enforcement and security services as may be necessary to provide for school safety and security.” Board Policy EBC and EBC-R (1).
The District Police Department operates a security monitoring system for Cedar through its Police Leader. This system is monitored both by the Cedar Security and District Services at Central Administration. Dr. Price has no involvement with the monitoring, operation, maintenance, or budgeting of this surveillance system. The security monitoring system, in its entirety, is an operation of District Services. District Services reports directly to Superintendent Lanoue regarding security matters at CCSD. Dr. Price learned from Cedar Security that the stairwell, where the incident occurred, had an outdated camera. The camera was not tied into the School surveillance system, even though the camera was actively recording. Had the camera been maintained and tied to the School’s monitoring system, there is a possibility that School Security could have intervened and possibly even prevented the assault.
Dr. Price has questioned the adequacy of the surveillance system on many occasions. As early as 2011, he was told by the District Chief of Police that it does not budget for the installation of a new security systems, but will only budget for repairs on existing systems. In August of 2013, Dr. Price learned that the security camera was damaged in the gym and immediately directed his administrative assistant to contact the District’s Police Chief. the District Chief assured CSHS staff that the cameras were being repaired. Based on the Police Chief’s assurances, Dr. Price was under the impression that the entire campus was being monitored appropriately.
After his report of the camera problem in 2013, Dr. Price continued to have problems with broken and inadequate cameras on campus as well as broken monitors housed in the school’s security office. The problems got so bad that in October of 2013, Dr. Price asked Superintendent Lanoue and Mr. Ted Gilbert, head of District Services, for assistance because several cameras and monitors were not working. He expressed the importance of repairing the security equipment in order to effectively monitor the school campus.
Dr. Price has always been an advocate for increased security at CSHS. However, it has been emphasized to him on more than one occasion that CSHS Security was the responsible party for security, not Dr. Price (School Security does not answer to the school principal, they answer directly to the District’s Chief of Police who answers to the Associate Superintendent for District Services and the Superintendent, Dr. Lanoue). In 2011, the Chief, at the time, reflected that money was the issue in providing additional security.
In December of 2012, Dr. Price questioned the adequacy of security, noting that when security officers called in sick there was no substitute policy. The District Security Chief made sure that Dr. Price understood that he did not make decisions regarding security. It was made clear to Dr. Price that the Police Team Leader was the one authorized to bring in an additional officer if he believed that he and his current staff and SRO could not manage the school’s current security situation. The District Chief of Police made it known that security was the purview and responsibility of the School District Police Department.
In February 2015, Dr. Price raised concerns again about security. Dr. Price requested the same amount of officers on half days as for full days. Dr. Price felt the security threat did not change based on the length of the day. The Chief indicated that after speaking with the SRO, and the security staff, he felt comfortable that the half days would be more manageable, and would not need additional officers. Again, district leadership asserted its control over security and denied Dr. Price’s request for more security.
Specific Issues Raised in the Media
Dr. Price learned from the District Administration that he was being placed on administrative leave pending internal investigation. He would like to respond to the allegations asserted in the public record regarding his handling of the incident and the response by the Administration.
Dr. Price’s failure to suspend the alleged assailants
The public should understand that the investigation of the matter was conducted by the District Police Department and Athens-Clarke County Police Department, not by Dr. Price. When discovered, the incident was immediately reported to the Chief of the CCSD Police who received the information from the CSHS Police Leader. The School Resource Officer (SRO), immediately involved the Athens-Clarke County Police Department. Dr. Price was never briefed by law enforcement entities as to the status of the investigation.
The law enforcement entities never revealed to Dr. Price who was officially under investigation for the assault. He was left to try to decipher who may have been involved. Dr. Price learned from his Assistant Principal for the 9th grade, the name of one individual. The identities of two of the alleged assailants was never officially verified to Dr. Price until arrests were made. Dr. Price was informed that the video from the outdated camera in the stairwell was not viewable, and it had to be recovered through a process, which took several weeks.
Dr. Price was also advised by the Assistant Principal that the known alleged assailant contended that the sexual relationship was consensual. Dr. Price was placed in the difficult position of addressing a sexual relationship where one party contends it was consensual and the other party contends it was not. The information provided to Dr. Price was very limited. It appears law enforcement was in the same dilemma as they did not make an immediate arrest.
News outlets have reported parents’ comments that the students should have been suspended for having sex on campus, even if consensual. Dr. Price could have done that, but if he treated the matter as consensual he would have had to suspend both the alleged assailant and the victim. Dr. Price did not want to make a formal conclusion that the sex was allegedly consensual, which would make the young lady a victim of the process, i.e. she would have had to be suspended. Because of the serious nature of this alleged crime, Dr. Price was wise to wait until the investigation was completed, or at least arrests were made. Dr. Price notes that the CCSD has no policy on dealing with disputed alleged sexual assault charges. However, he did exactly what Title IX of the Federal Law requires, which is to insure the matter is reported to law enforcement.
Dr. Price submits that the Superintendent and the Executive Director of Student Support Services should have provided guidance, wisdom and support just like they have done before when serious incidents occurred in the District. However, the Superintendent and the Executive Director of Student Support Services abstained from being involved.
Dr. Price did exactly as he was trained to do, which was to insure the incident was reported to School District Law Enforcement, the security arm of the Superintendent. He also insured the School’s counselor engaged the victim’s family to address any needs the victim of the incident might have had and that she was taken to a local hospital.
Dr. Price had the highest concern about the well-being of the victim. When the incident occurred, the counselor immediately contacted the parent of the victim and expressed to the family that the school would provide any support needed. The counselor and the assistant principal provided updates to Dr. Price regarding the victim’s needs and health. The school satisfied all reporting requirements by notifying the CCSD Police Chief who notified District leadership, including the Superintendent on the day of the incident. However, as an abundance of caution, Dr. Price also reported the incident to District Administration.
Because of the inaction of District leadership, Dr. Price was placed in a position of trying to handle a serious incident that desperately needed the guidance, support and resources of the CCSD district leadership.
It is important to note that despite the high volume of local and national media attention on sexual assaults in the education arena, the leadership of the CCSD never implemented a policy on the actions that should be taken by a Principal when a disputed alleged sexual assault occurs. While a Principal is responsible for discipline at his School, the Principal is not the responsible party for dealing with serious criminal activity. The Superintendent is responsible for the safety and security of students in the District (CCSD Policy EBB and EBC) (Attachment). The lack of policy dealing with this issue represents a failure of leadership by the Superintendent. The issue of due process for the accused assailants of sexual assault is the subject of recent Board of Regents’ policy changes. While this is not higher education, the principle of due process under the law applies to high school students as well. First, most Universities and Colleges have a procedure; the CCSD does not. Because the Superintendent has failed to implement policies on this issue and failed to intervene in the matter, Dr. Price was placed in the position of trying to decipher whether to use a summary suspension on the basis of consensual sex which would have required the suspension of both the accused and victim. Dr. Price’s decision to wait until the investigation was completed, or arrests were made, was completely reasonable and consistent with the policies espoused by the Board of Regents.
Please note that Dr. Price kept district leadership including the Superintendent apprised of the assault and its aftermath.
The primary agency for a criminal incident of this nature is the School District Police, which is under the auspices of District Services. The School’s Police Chief reports directly to the Associate Superintendent of District Services and ultimately, the Superintendent. In his role as Principal, Dr. Price is aware that the Police Chief for the District as a matter of routine reports all serious matters to the Superintendent. For the Superintendent to contend that he was not apprised by his Police Department staff of the incident strains plausibility. The Superintendent has a duty to address the issue of sexual assault and create a comprehensive response, but he failed to meet his duty, rather he chose to cast blame on a subordinate.
Also, a source of grave concern was mentioned by many who wanted to know why parents, teachers and community were not notified about the alleged sexual assault.
Dr. Price completely understands that sentiment and wished he would have informed the staff and parents sooner, but the practice in place is that school administration never shares anything of a serious nature with the public without the explicit permission of District leadership, ultimately Dr. Lanoue. In the past, before a Principal could share information regarding a serious incident, a letter would be constructed by the Principal subject to review and final vetting from the Director of Public Relations and Dr. Lanoue. Dr. Price followed the policy that they have used in the past. Dr. Price sent the letter regarding this incident to the Director of Public Relations, she edited and vetted it before going public. A statement regarding this incident came out on February 5, 2016, after it appeared in the local newspaper. In conclusion, if District leadership had intervened at the beginning of the process, the public would have likely been informed sooner.
In closing, Dr. Price felt very strongly that it was important for the public to know that he followed protocol and that the information put out there was misleading, and in many cases factually incorrect. While he is concerned about retaliation and retribution against him because of this press release, he is willing to take a chance because of the importance of the matter and in hopes of preventing another incident of this nature from ever happening again. He will speak out again should it become necessary in the future.
Dr. Price’s attorney, Michael C. Daniel stated: “Dr. Price has done an excellent job as the Principal at Cedar Shoals for the past five years, and has been a valued employee of the Clarke County School District for almost 14 years. He, along with his Cedar Shoals staff, has had tremendous success in many areas, including improving the graduation rate and overall performance in Advanced Placement classes. It is very disturbing that the Superintendent is blaming Dr. Price for the manner in which Dr. Price handled the aftermath of this incident, considering that fully functioning cameras and additional security personnel may have prevented the incident from occurring.”
And here is the district's written response:
In regards to the press release from Mr. Daniel pertaining to Dr. Price: