Schools chief defends keeping accused Ala. teacher

January 9, 2012 - 8:35 PM

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Two longtime Alabama school board leaders are defending the panel's decision in 1993 to reinstate an elementary school teacher who was accused of molesting a student, even though the teacher is now charged with more abuse.

School board President Lee Doebler and Vice President Steve Martin said students, parents and community leaders encouraged the Shelby County Board of Education to return 4th grade teacher Danny Acker to his Alabaster classroom, and the board agreed 5-0. Doebler and Martin are the only board members who remain from those days, and both said they did the best they could with the information they had.

"Looking back, given the evidence we had I would have made the same vote," Doebler said. "I wish we had some evidence, but unfortunately, we didn't."

Acker, 49, is now in the county jail on four counts of first-degree sexual abuse involving two female students under 12. Police said the former teacher admitted to molesting 21 girls throughout his career when he was arrested on Wednesday. The arrest shocked residents of the well-to-do Birmingham suburb, where Acker taught for 25 years and was a familiar figure in his green VW convertible.

Doebler, chairman of the department of counseling and instructional leadership at the University of Montevallo, said he was as surprised as anyone because two of his children had Acker as a teacher. "They always liked him and never indicated any problem," he said.

Shelby County's superintendent placed Acker on leaver in October 1992 when a student accused him of touching her improperly at her home. A county grand jury reviewed the case and did not return an indictment.

Martin said the superintendent recommended Acker's dismissal. The school board held a hearing in February 1993 that lasted more than eight hours and then voted unanimously to keep him.

Martin said there were no witnesses and no physical evidence. He said the abuse was alleged to have occurred during babysitting rather than at the school.

Doebler, who was also the board president in 1993, said many present and former students and their parents turned out as character witnesses to support Acker, and the board was heavily influenced by the grand jury's decision to take no action.

"There was no evidence presented to us to indicate the grand jury was incorrect," he said.

Martin said Acker's father, longtime County Commissioner Dan Acker, made no effort to influence the decision. "The dad did not call anyone or discuss it with anyone," he said.

The charges against Danny Acker involve allegations of abuse before and after the 1992 case. One says she was abused in 1990-1991 and other in 2009. Court documents say both were younger than 12 at the time.

Acker's arrest has caused Shelby County residents to question the decision by the school board in 1993.

Both board members said there were no more complaints against the popular teacher between 1993 and his retirement in 2009.

While board members say Acker's father was not a factor in their decision, he has been a factor in Shelby County District Attorney Robby Owens asking to step aside from the case.

Owens, who was not working in the district attorney's office in 1993, said he asked the state attorney general to appoint a new prosecutor because he knows the commissioner and the County Commission helps determine the funding for the district attorney's office. Owens said he wants to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Luther Strange said Monday he is working on finding a new prosecutor.