Cobb schools stonewall parents over sex abuse concerns

A Cobb County mother, Jaquelyn, whose full name is being withheld because her son is an alleged victim of Ron Gorman, recorded and provided this video to the AJC.

Cobb County School District officials are refusing to answer questions about whether the district has updated its safety policies after a parent volunteer with Pope High School’s wrestling program was convicted of sexually abusing boys.

In February, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that two mothers and a young wrestler informed Pope officials and local authorities of inappropriate and potentially criminal behavior by Ron Gorman, years before he was arrested on an out-of-state warrant.

East Cobb mother Rene Dodd said she was disturbed by the AJC’s report, and reached out to the district in writing and in person at an April school board meeting. She asked what steps had been taken to prevent it from happening again and whether the school officials who allegedly failed to report the allegations to law enforcement, as required, would be held accountable.

She said she never received a response.

“I feel like the culture and the communication in the schools need to improve,” Dodd said. “I feel like I just keep hitting walls trying to figure out what the schools are supposed to be doing.”

The stakes for parents are high, she said. She pointed to a teacher at Kell High School who was arrested earlier this month on charges of sexually assaulting a female student over several years.

The district's lack of responsiveness on this and other safety issues prompted Dodd to form a group of like-minded parents to advocate for change.

The group met this week with school board representative David Banks. During the gathering, a mother who accused Gorman of victimizing her son pressed Banks for information about how the school system plans to address future complaints.

In a snippet of the exchange captured on video by the mother, she asks Banks whether the school has made any changes to prevent future sexual abuse.

“Yes, but we don’t discuss it,” Banks answered.

She continued, asking what parents should do if they reach out to him and don’t hear back.

“Try again,” he replied. A heated exchange ensued.

The mother, who the AJC identified in its February article by only her first name, Jaquelyn, to protect her son’s privacy, went to the school and police in 2011 when she discovered a disturbing Facebook message from Gorman to her son. After Gorman was arrested, she alerted the AJC to her warnings to the school and police.

Cobb School District Spokesperson Nan Kiel did not respond to a list of specific questions from the AJC this week, including why school officials would not discuss safety policies with parents. She provided a short statement instead:

“The person you referenced was never an employee or representative of the Cobb County School District,” she wrote, referring to Gorman, who was once a volunteer with Pope Junior Wrestling and an officer with the high school’s booster club. “The central office was not notified of this allegation, has no knowledge of the individual involved, and is aware of the complaint through media inquiry.”

Former Pope Athletic Director Steven Craft confirmed that he and then-Principal Rick Beaulieu spoke to Jaquelyn in 2011 about what he described as Gorman’s “inappropriate language,” but insisted they did everything “by the book and appropriate.” Head Coach Jim Haskin was also aware of her complaint, Craft said.

A police report provided by Jaquelyn appears to support her assertion that she — not Cobb school officials — reached out to police, who in turn contacted the school. Specifically, the report indicates that an investigator discussed the case with Craft and Mary Finlayson, then the district’s professional standards and ethics director.

Finlayson “stated that he [Gorman] was not an employee of the school and the only thing they could do at the time was to remove him as a coaching volunteer,” the report reads.

After interviewing the child, the police cleared and closed the case due to “the lack of a prosecutable charge.”

In 2015, a second child reported that Gorman had solicited him at Gorman’s lake house in Cherokee County. When the mother reported the incident to school officials, she said they did not disclose any previous complaint.

Gorman continued to work with children and college wrestlers under the auspices of Life University, where he was the head coach, and Team Georgia Wrestling, the licensing body where Gorman was a board member.

Finally, Jaquelyn reached out through Facebook to parents in Pennsylvania, where Gorman lived before relocating to Georgia. Pennsylvania police acted on the tip, and six months later issued a warrant for Gorman’s arrest on behalf of two Pennsylvania victims, one of whom was assaulted at Gorman’s home in Cobb.

Gorman pleaded guilty in November, 2017, and was sentenced to 40 years. He now faces extradition to Cobb, where he faces two counts of aggravated child molestation related to the Pennsylvania boy he brought to Georgia. So far, no charges have been filed on behalf of the alleged victims from Georgia.

Still Banks told Dodd he was unable to discuss the case or Cobb’s protocols due to the charges filed against Gorman by the Cobb District Attorney.

“The prosecutor in this case has not discussed this case with CCSD at all,” Kim Isaza, a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office, wrote in an email. ” […] The victim in this case does not reside in Georgia and never attended school in Cobb.”