Ex-teacher gets 8-year prison sentence for molesting student at Cherokee school

He pleaded guilty earlier to charges at Fulton school
Robert Vandel pleaded guilty to a slew of child sex abuse charges in separate criminal investigations that spanned two metro Atlanta counties.

Credit: Fulton County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Fulton County Sheriff's Office

Robert Vandel pleaded guilty to a slew of child sex abuse charges in separate criminal investigations that spanned two metro Atlanta counties.

A teacher who spent his two-decade career hopscotching to different schools to escape allegations of sexual misconduct will spend a decade behind bars and the rest of his life on probation.

Cherokee County Judge David Cannon Jr. sentenced 65-year-old Robert Allen Vandel to eight years in prison after accepting his guilty plea Thursday to two counts of child molestation. Vandel had already pleaded guilty in a separate Fulton County case that included charges of rape, aggravated child molestation, two counts of child molestation and false imprisonment, court records show.

He was sentenced to 10 years in the Fulton case, to run concurrently with the Cherokee sentence, but received credit for two years of time served. Vandel will also have to register as a sex offender and cannot have any contact with his victims, their families or any unsupervised contact with any children, according to the terms of his sentencing.

For decades, Vandel managed to dodge multiple investigations, professional sanctions and a slate of criminal charges before ultimately landing at Lyndon Academy in Holly Springs in August 2020. There, he began grooming one of his 13-year-old students, prosecutors said ahead of his sentencing Thursday. He gradually escalated his behavior, which became more sexualized over time.

“It’s like I’m running from this monster, but I can’t run fast enough. I can’t run far enough. I can’t run away,” the victim, now 15, told the court in her impact statement.

During the girl’s forensic interview in 2021, she described what amounted to a “methodical behavior that essentially led to a relationship of trust and admiration between her and Mr. Vandel,” according to prosecutors.

He let her visit him in his office to give her answers to tests and picked her projects over other students’ work, prosecutors said. Then, he began pressing his body against hers whenever he saw or created an opportunity, ensuring that his genitals touched her buttocks. And on at least one occasion, he spanked her on the buttocks with a ruler.

“My life has been torn apart and most things taken from me,” the girl said of her trauma. “My friends. My confidence. And who I used to be as a person. I am not the same girl ... I have changed. I’m scared. I’m betrayed. I’m nervous. And I’m traumatized.”

The teen described overwhelming feelings of desperation, paranoia, anxiety and numbness.

“I never thought it was possible to sit there and feel yourself falling apart. I felt like I was going crazy,” she said. “I feel I will never get to be a normal girl. Some days I feel like I’m stuck in that classroom.”

Vandel was hired at Lyndon Academy just two months after being fired from Fulton Academy of Science and Technology in the summer of 2020 after an IT staffer discovered a series of communications to a group of eighth grade girls that ranged from questionable to inappropriate, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported. The school then hired a private investigator, who uncovered “disturbing patterns” of behavior, including a video call to one of the students during which he asked her to show him her bedroom and then her neck.

“When she turned the telephone towards her neck, Mr. Vandel told (the student) that if he were there he would put a hickey on that neck,” the investigative firm stated in a letter to school administrators.

But it wasn’t that communication with students that triggered a criminal investigation. Those findings were reported to the state certification commission and to the Division of Family and Children Services, according to records obtained by the AJC. Vandel voluntarily surrendered his teaching certificate in September 2020.

It wasn’t until August of the following year that a criminal investigation was opened after a 15-year-old girl told her mother that Vandel raped her in his locked classroom during recess in early February or March 2020.

The girl told Roswell police investigators that Vandel called her into the classroom, pulled down the blinds, removed her school uniform and raped her. When it was over, he “gave her a white in color kitchen rag to clean the blood off of herself,” detectives wrote in a warrant for Vandel’s arrest in September 2021. Then, he kissed her on the forehead, gave her an ice cream bar and said, “Sorry.”

It was that investigation that spiderwebbed its way across county lines to Lyndon Academy, where investigators found the second victim.

Multiple civil lawsuits over the hiring of Vandel despite his record have been filed against both schools in federal and state civil courts.

“I’ve waited 18 months. One year and six months, and the day has finally come where I can get my justice,” the victim said Thursday. “I finally feel like I can leave that classroom.”

— Staff writer Alexis Stevens contributed to this article.