Fulton should have known about former teacher’s abuse, complaint says

A legal complaint filed on behalf of a student says officials with Fulton County Schools and one of its charter schools should have known about a former teacher’s past sexual misconduct before he was hired.

The complaint says Fulton County administrators and leaders at Fulton Academy for Science and Technology (FAST) charter school failed to properly vet former teacher Robert Allen Vandel, who has been sentenced in cases in two counties for child molestation and other charges.

“It should have been an open-and-shut case,” Michael J. Moore, an attorney for the victim’s family, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It would have taken really a nanosecond to follow through on information that they had access to about him and they just didn’t do it.”

The complaint, filed June 14 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, claims Vandel sexually harassed and assaulted a FAST student during three different school years, the most recent one being 2019-2020. The filing says the district and the school failed to perform due diligence when Vandel was hired in 2017, noting his teaching certificate was suspended years earlier after a sexual battery complaint.

The Georgia Professional Standards Commission, which certifies teachers, twice suspended Vandel’s certificate. The first time was in 2006 after finding out he was convicted of writing bad checks and had also been charged with sexual battery. The second was in 2019, after he admitted to showing up to school after drinking alcohol, the complaint says.

A Fulton County spokesman issued the following statement: “FAST is a separate legal entity from the Fulton County School District. FAST creates and implements its own personnel policies and hires, vets, and manages its staff independently. Fulton County Schools does not comment on pending litigation.”

FAST said it is aware of the complaint and issued a statement to the AJC, which reads in part:

“We remain deeply committed to the uncompromised safety and security of our students and staff members, which will always be a top priority at FAST. Because this is pending litigation, we cannot provide any additional comment on the matter, other than to say that we deny all of the allegations asserted against FAST in the complaint.”

In March of 2019, minutes from FAST’s governing board meeting show the board discussed a Letter of Concern the school received from the district. Among the concerns outlined in the letter were the school’s leadership turnover, noncompliance with legal requirements and the board’s failure to complete governance training.

“We know there’s culpability with the county as well as FAST and their governing board,” Aimee Hall, co-counsel for the victim’s family, told the AJC. She said the board received complaints of Vandel’s sexual misconduct but failed to investigate.

“A couple of the (FAST) board members were aware, and were given notice of scandals, grooming and the sexual harassment, and they refused to fire (Vandel),” Hall said.

Vandel, 65, had a history of legal trouble but was still hired at several Georgia schools. According to court documents, he was charged with sexual battery in 2003 while working at a middle school in Columbus. Those charges contributed to the two-year suspension of his teaching certificate. Still, he went on to teach at public and private schools in the state, the AJC has reported.

Vandel was sentenced in March by a Cherokee County judge to eight years in prison for pleading guilty to two counts of sexual abuse when he was working at Lyndon Academy, a private school, in Holly Springs in 2020. In May 2022, he was sentenced to ten years in prison by a Fulton County judge after pleading guilty to charges of rape, aggravated child molestation, false imprisonment and child molestation in the FAST case. Vandel was hired at Lyndon Academy just two months after being fired from FAST in the summer of 2020 after a staffer discovered a series of inappropriate communications to a group of eighth grade girls.

The terms of his Fulton County sentencing require Vandel to register as a sex offender and prohibit him from having contact with his victims.