Former Fulton special ed teacher indicted for abusing Hopewell Middle students

A former Fulton County teacher turned herself in on child cruelty charges Wednesday.

A Fulton County grand jury on Wednesday indicted former Fulton County Schools special education teacher Melanie Pickens on 11 counts of Cruelty to Children and False Imprisonment for allegedly abusing five students while she was a teacher at Hopewell Middle School in Alpharetta.

A warrant was issued Wednesday for the arrest of Pickens, 34, who resigned from the school system in 2007.

She posted a $66,000 bond and was release from the Fulton jail Thursday morning.

The abuse allegedly occurred between 2004 and 2007.

Pickens could not be reached for comment. Her attorney, B. J. Bernstein, said a hearing has not been set for Pickens, but would likely occur early next year.

Investigators say Pickens abused “non-verbal” special needs students by pushing them, shoving them into lockers and leaving them in isolation for hours on end. Chris Vance, an attorney representing one of the students who earlier this year filed a federal lawsuit against the district for $10.5 million, said she was disappointed that the indictment was not more comprehensive.

Vance claims Pickens’s abuse of students goes back to 2002 and began at Holcomb Bridge Middle School before Pickens moved to Hopewell Middle. The DA’s office has had evidence to indict Pickens since 2009, said Vance. “These children have been harmed and they will never recover,” said Vance.

The case was first handled as a human resource matter and centered on the abuse of a single child, according to the DA. The case against Pickens began to expand after civil suits found four more alleged victims. The Fulton County DA began investigating the case last May.

In Feburary of this year State Administrative Law Judge Kimberly Schroer ruled that Pickens abused a student with cerebral palsy, denying the student a “free and appropriate public education.” Schroer said Fulton County Schools should pay for five years of a private education for the student.

Fulton County Schools superintendent Robert Avossa said Wednesday the district has worked with the DA’s office in investigating the case which occurred before Avossa was hired as superintendent. Avossa said the district has put processes into place to make sure behavior of this nature never happens again.