Harlem High School’s senior JROTC instructor has resigned while under investigation for a reported sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student.
Mitchell Sivas, 57, a Thomson resident and retired Army lieutenant colonel, resigned March 4 when confronted by Harlem Principal Dietmar Perez, said Columbia County Schools Superintendent Charles Nagle.
Under Georgia law, a sexual relationship between a student and teacher from the same school is illegal even if the student is past the age of consent, said Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris.
However, there is no indication any such activity took place in Columbia County, and Thomson police investigating the incident thus far say they believe no crime took place.
Harlem’s principal first learned of the allegations after the girl’s father discovered she was at Sivas’ Michael Street home on March 3, Nagle said.
According to a Thomson police report obtained by The McDuffie Mirror, officers questioned the teen and Sivas after finding her at the home. Both denied there was a sexual relationship, though each professed “strong feelings” for each other.
Thomson police contacted Toombs Judicial Circuit District Attorney Dennis Sanders, according to the report, and “upon reviewing the information, it revealed there had not been any criminal activity committed at the time this report was filed.”
In a subsequent report filed two days later with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, the teen “did finally admit to having a sexual relationship with LTC. Sivas.”
By the time that report was filed, Perez had already called Sivas to tell him not to return to school, Nagle said.
Sivas responded that he had already cleaned out his desk and left a letter of resignation behind.
“He knew he had messed up,” Nagle said.
Sanders said that while the case remains under investigation, and despite the girl admitting to Columbia County authorities that the two had sex, he still doubts there is a case.
“From what they tell me, there’s no evidence of sexual contact,” Sanders said.
Admitting uncertainty about the law prohibiting sexual contact between students and teachers, Sanders said he also isn’t sure whether prosecution of any crime would be under the jurisdiction of the county where the school is located, or of the county where the activity took place.
“There’s a lot of it that’s kind of confusing,” Sanders said. “I just told them to turn it over to Harlem High School.”
Morris said additional statements from the girl are being collected and will be turned over to Thomson police, and it will be up to them to pursue charges in that venue. “But if we found out something happened here, we’re charging him,” Morris said.
The school system has reported Sivas to the state teacher licensing board, Nagle said.
While there as yet are no indications that any of the activities took place at the school, Perez filed the subsequent report with the Columbia County Sheriff’s office out of an abundance of caution, Nagle said.
The teen was not a JROTC student, he added.
Sivas has been Harlem High’s senior JROTC instructor since 2011, after previously serving as a JROTC instructor at Grady High School in Atlanta.
“He came highly recommended,” Nagle said. Prior to this incident, Sivas already had planned to leave Harlem High at the end of the school year. He had given notice that he was leaving to take a similar position with higher pay at Hephzibah High School, Nagle said.
“As far as we’re concerned, we’re done with him,” Nagle said.
According to the Harlem High School JROTC Web site, Sivas is a 26-year veteran who served in Airborne, Air Assault and Special Operations units, and “served several combat assignments with Special Forces.”
Harlem’s JROTC team, along with others in the area, is scheduled to compete in this weekend’s JROTC State Drill Meet at Fort Gordon, according to the site. Nagle said the students likely would continue as planned under instructor Willie Boston.
Reach Barry Paschal at (706) 868-1222, ext. 106, or at email@example.com.