UPDATE: Walker Co. teacher's contract extended despite child pornography charge
UPDATE: The Walker County School Board voted to extend Saddle Ridge Middle School teacher Dr. James Barrett's contract four days after he was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography.
"Contracts come out every year in April for the entire district, so that's just typical of what happens every year, and so a tenured teacher gets a contract," Superintendent Damon Raines explained. "Unless there's something... they decide to resign, they're going to another district, something in life has changed and they're moving away, they still get that contract."
He said they chose to move forward as the criminal investigation progresses. Dr. Barrett has continued to be allowed to work outside the classroom at the Advanced Education Center writing curriculum for third and eighth-grade social studies.
"So we were brought into the loop back in November, that's when the actual search warrants happened. At that point, he was removed from the classroom based on the ongoing investigation with the Sheriff's Department," said Raines.
A judge signed off on a warrant, that was executed on November 16th, 2018.
In the initial search warrant filed in November, a student claimed that they were loaned Dr. Barrett's iPad to finish a class assignment. On the iPad, Barrett was logged into his personal account, in a written statement the student described the videos on Barrett's search history as "not appropriate, and porn."
Investigators searched the iPad, several cell phones and two laptops belonging to Barrett.
A second search warrant was executed on January 2nd, 2019. According to court records, the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office searched Barrett's home, downloading data from cell phones and searching Barrett's internet history, which showed searches for, "naked pubescent boys."
After a five-month investigation, Barrett was arrested on April 5th. He was allowed to keep his job with Walker County Schools through the investigation and after his arrest.
Superintendent Damon Raines said Barrett was taken out of the classroom on November 29th, 11 days after the first allegation.
Raines said he has to follow due process rights for teachers.
"Then there's a charge letter, there's a time frame, there's a fair dismissal hearing that has to happen," Raines explained. "There's a variety of things that have to happen, and you have to have evidence in that case, and because that case is with the criminal side right now, that's not a choice we're going to make."
When asked why he chose not to place Barrett on paid leave pending the investigation, he said if he's going to be paying Barrett, he wants him to be productive.
"We'll wait to see what the criminal investigation shows and that will allow us to make decisions for the school system," said Raines.
Channel 3 reached out to Dr. Barrett's attorney for comment and received no response. We also reached out to school board members Karen Stokes and Dale Wilson who voted against extending Barrett's contract.
Stokes said she can't comment on an ongoing investigation and a personnel matter, and Wilson didn't return our calls and email.
PREVIOUS STORY: April 8, 2019: Statement from Damon Raines, Superintendent of Schools:
The Walker County Board of Education will cooperate with law enforcement regarding the matter involving Dr. Jim Barrett. Since November 29, 2018, Dr. Barrett has been assigned to the Advancing Education Center, and at this time, he will continue to work at that facility.
PREVIOUS STORY: April 5: A Ringgold man has been charged with possession of child pornography.
Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said James David Barrett, 51, was charged following a five-month investigation that started when he was employed as an 8th-grade teacher at Saddle Ridge Middle School.
"Detectives with the Walker County Sheriff’s Office were alerted in November 2018 of inappropriate content on a school electronic device assigned to James Barrett," Sheriff Wilson explained.
During the investigation, search warrants were served in both Catoosa and Walker Counties. A number of electronic devices were seized and sent to the GBI crime lab.
The GBI found child pornography on Barrett's personal devices, Sheriff Wilson added.
Barrett was arrested Friday and has been charged with one count of child pornography. He is being held at the Catoosa County Detention facility.
Channel 3 reported on Barrett in 2017 when he won a lawsuit against the Walker County School System (“System”) in federal court.
A Georgia teachers union filed the lawsuit for Barrett because he felt his First Amendment right to freedom of speech was violated when he had concerns about a new grading policy. He said he was told he could not speak to the school board.
A federal court said the policy restricting "public participation" was unconstitutional.