Affidavit of Denise Smith-Baxley by decree


									Affidavit of Denise Smith-Baxley (TEACHER)
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Come now, Denise Smith-Baxley, being duly sworn and authorized, and hereby deposes and states the following:
My name is Denise Smith-Baxley. I am over the age of 18 and competent to testify to the matters set forth in this

I have taught students with specific learning disabilities at Brantley County High School for the past seventeen years. For
the eight years prior to that, I taught students classified as severely emotionally disturbed for the Charlton County school
system. The Harrell Psychoeducational Center, a special education center located in Waycross, Georgia, had a satellite
branch located at the old hospital in Folkston. I began teaching in Folkston after receiving a B.A. in psychology from
Georgia Southern University and my teaching certificate in 1976. I came to know Jamie Lee as one of my students who
came to the Harrell Center's annex a few years after I started.

After reviewing his school records, I recall that Jamie was referred for a psychological evaluation while in kindergarten in
the 1979-80 school year. At that time, it was extremely rare to have a child that young referred to the Harrell Center for
possible placement. I recall that Marward Howard, Jamie's kindergarten teacher, observed a possible learning disability
and behavioral issues that were not typical for a five or six year old child. It is clear from the records that she saw the
problems I saw with Jamie: incredible impulsiveness and a extraordinary need for attention. Although Jamie's learning
problems were immediately addressed, he was monitored for signs of emotional disability. By the end of the year, after
the impulsiveness and attention needs continued unabated, the decision was made to place Jamie in a class for the
severely emotionally disabled (SED) under my instruction for the 1980-81 school year. Initially, Jamie's placement was
for two hours, or periods, daily. That decision was made only after consideration by myself, special education coordinator
Gladys Glenn, Jamie's teachers, principal Steve McQueen, and Jamie's mother, Barbara Lee. It was the feeling of those
school personnel involved that Jamie could really benefit from the structure and the individualized attention that the SED
class would offer to Jamie.

The SED classes were small and contained no more than six or seven students. I always had a paraprofessional aide in
the classroom with me - at that time, it was Lenore Roberson. In reality, between the two instructors, the average was
approximately three students per instructor. As a result, Lenore and I were able to give the children much individualized
instruction and attention.

In the SED class, the schedule was varied. My goal was to make it different on a daily basis so that children like Jamie
who had problems with focusing or hyperactivity remained stimulated. For example, a short reading period could be
followed by a hands-on science experiment. I have always been health-conscious, so I made sure to intersperse
exercises throughout the day to improve coordination and help my students get rid of excess of energy. There was a
snack time everyday where one student would be given a bowl of snacks and the students would practice passing it
around, saying "please" and "thank you". We also had a sharing time as well where students could talk about whatever
they wanted to talk about, one at the time in front of the group. So while we mixed things up, the SED class was very
structured and there were clearly defined standards of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. While academics were
important in the SED class, socialization and counseling were the most important goals of the program.
The children assigned to the SED class were trainable. Most, like Jamie, were of low intelligence, and were the type that
could be trained to perform manual tasks, like welding and simple carpentry. One of the goals of the SED programs was
to recognize the relative strengths and weaknesses of these children and to foster those strengths and to improve self-
esteem. Most of our children found themselves frustrated in regular classrooms, and our individualized instruction and
structured environment allowed our students to excel at a slower pace, thus boosting their self-esteem and reducing
incidents of unacceptable behavior.

The SED program was not very well funded, and we did not have the money to take the kids out on field trips. A few of
the other teachers and I got together and went to local businesses for money to put together a Special Olympics program
for the kids. We figured it would be a chance to get the kids outside and the process of competing in sporting events and
receiving awards would be invaluable in improving self-esteem of the students and giving them a sense of
accomplishment. The businesses readily contributed and the program was a great success. All of the kids came away
proud, and Jamie was no exception.

Upon meeting Jamie, while it was clear to me that hyperactivity was a factor, it was his impulsiveness that was more of
an issue. An impulsive child is different from a hyperactive child in the sense that the impulsive child, like Jamie, acts on
the impulse that strikes at the moment, good and bad. Whatever impulse Jamie had, he acted on. The impulse that I saw
most with Jamie was the desire for attention. He had a need to be in the middle of whatever was going on. At the
beginning especially, I could feel him shadow me and watch me constantly.

In my experience, the watching and shadowing indicated to me he had trust issues with adults. With Jamie, I could see
he wanted to see how consistent I was with him and the other students, whether I dealt with everyone in the same
manner. I could tell that he was feeling me out, to see if he could trust me. He wanted to see if I liked kids and him in
particular. This indicated to me that Jamie was unsure of what was expected of him in any given situation. I got the
feeling, which was later confirmed in my interactions with his mother, that he had no structure or consistency when he left
school for the day.

Jamie really opened up once he saw that I was an adult that could be trusted. The attention needs and impulsiveness
continued, but it was clear to me that Jamie was always trying to improve his behavior. While there were plenty of times
that Jamie butted into a conversation, talked out of turn, or followed me around the classroom, it always seemed to be
related to his need for security, his need to be liked, his need to know that he was not a bad kid. I never got the
impression that he'd talk out of turn or not raise his hand because he was rude. Rather, it was because he wanted to
answer the question first so that I could compliment him if he answered it right. The need for reassurance was paramount
for Jamie. He was forever trying to please. Jamie was happiest when people took notice that he did a good job.

There were plenty of times where I gently scolded Jamie in private for talking out of turn or acting up a little bit, and he
always responded to a gentle scolding by apologizing and saying that he'd do better. I could tell afterwards that he would
try to do better, and he would for a period of time. It never appeared to me that Jamie didn't try to perform better.

As an educator, I believe it is important to get parents involved in the education of their children. In the SED program, it is
that much more important. To improve behaviors and properly socialize children, it is mandatory that all adults who play
roles in the lives of children are on the same page and that there is consistency both at school and at home. Otherwise,
those positive behaviors learned at school can be lost just as quickly in the home environment. Simply put, there is only
so much the school system can do, especially in the SED context, without parental involvement and effort.

I had questions about Jamie's home life even before I met him. Jamie had a general appearance which was dirty. I
remember his unkempt and dirty clothes and the smudges he continually had on his face and hands. Additionally, his
dental hygiene was terrible. His teeth were rotten. This indicated a real lack of care and concern for Jamie's basic needs
on part of his caregivers. I was concerned about how he was being cared for, and that concern only increased when I
met his mother.

Jamie's mother, Barbara, always looked like she had recovered from a hard night of doing something. She was unkempt
as well and looked tired. She was pretty young when she had Jamie, and I remember thinking how hard she looked even
as a young woman. She appeared as if she had done a lot of living. I also remember thinking that she couldn't have been
tired from cleaning - in all the home visits I had, both when Jamie and his mother lived with his grandparents or when
they lived alone in Homeland, wherever they lived was absolutely filthy and in need of a lot of attention. Barbara would
show me areas where she claimed that Jamie had messes this up or messed that up, but I was never really sure who did
what. Even if Jamie had made a mess, it certainly never appeared that Barbara made any effort to clean their
surroundings. I often wondered what it would be like to live in that kind of environment as a child.

Looking back through Jamie's records, it is apparent that usually Barbara or sometimes her mother would come in for
team meetings or would be present for home visits. While it can be said that Barbara made the effort to come to school
when requested, it was the only effort that I could see her making. Those meetings I had with her were to address
Jamie's problems or my concerns and to talk about how, between the school and home, we could best address Jamie's
needs. The thing that really struck me about Barbara is that while she told me what I wanted to hear, there were never
any actions to follow her words. My impression of Barbara is that she was most concerned about appearances and not
doing things that would really benefit Jamie.

One thing that I suggested to Barbara is that she get Jamie involved in clubs or sports so that he could socialize with
other kids his age and also have an outlet for his energy. I recall the scouting was bin Charlton County, and I
recommended it on a few occasions. I felt that Jamie could really get something out of scouting or organized sports. To
my knowledge, there was never any action on Barbra's part. She always said that she kept meaning to do it. She
sounded like a broken record. I always suggested that she get outside and spend quality time with Jamie, to my
knowledge, this never happened either. Barbara was continually more concerned with her own problems than her son's.
She talked of Jamie as if he were a burden and a nuisance and was someone who radically changed her lifestyle. To this
day, I believe that she was indeed overwhelmed raising Jamie, but was not really overwhelmed as she made herself out
to be.

Barbara�s tome during our meeting was one of resignation, that Jamie's problems were always going to be there and

there was nothing she could do to stop the train. She would say, "you know how hard it is to raise a boy all by yourself."
Early on in my contact with her, it was evident to me that she just gave up and was never really interested in addressing
the issues. Barbara never seemed concerned with providing the guidance that a parent should.
I do remember Jamie's grandparents having some involvement with his life. I had my concerns about them as well and
whether they were equipped to deal with Jamie. For one, they were old. I vaguely recall hearing stories about the
grandfather's alcoholism. Regardless, I do remember them as types who pretty much sat around the house all day long.
Given Jamie's need for attention and his hyperactivity, I never had the impression that the environment that they fostered
could be very helpful for Jamie, either. It was not conducive to what Jamie needed.

In spite of the fact that I was aware of Jamie's home life, it was nothing he and I ever spoke about. He never mentioned
his mother or grandparents. As I said earlier, we had a sharing time in the SED class everyday. Jamie never missed a
chance to share, but it remains with me to this day that he never talked about his mother or grandparents. Even the
shyest kids would talk about their families at one point or another, but Jamie never did.

Even with the lack of support and encouragement that Jamie was getting at home, he really was a good boy. He tried
hard, and when I complimented him on his efforts, he tried that much harder. He responded so well to positive
reinforcement. Although he had his lapses, he came back stronger the next time. When he was supported, when he was
encouraged, there was nothing that he couldn't do. In the four years that I was involved with him to one degree or
another, I could see him learning to believe in himself and gain confidence. I really do think, that in better circumstances,
the sky could have been the limit with Jamie. Although he came into the school system with problems, the boy was
salvageable had there been some consistency in his life.

The main problem I faced with Jamie is that the school system couldn't look after him twenty-four hours a day. We only
had him for eight hours, and I always wondered who was looking out for him those other sixteen. I tried to look after
Jamie like he was one of my own, but there was only so much I could do.

In early 1997, I was contacted by John Adams, an attorney in Folkston. I knew John because his wife and I had taught
together in the past. John told me that he was representing Jamie in a death penalty case and that he wanted to speak
with me about Jamie. I was shocked. A few weeks before trial, I met with John and reviewed some of Jamie's school
records. I agreed to be witness for Jamie if needed. The morning of the day I testified, I saw John again and met Dr.
Grant, the psychologist. Dr. Grant told me about the tests he ran and his results, but never asked me any questions.
John told me that morning just to answer the questions he asked and that I was there to talk about Jamie's school years.
I had no idea about the specifics of my testimony. I must admit that I felt unprepared. I didn't know what I could testify
about and what I couldn't or what he wanted me to communicate to the judge and jury.

After reviewing my testimony, it is clear to me that there is much more about my contact with Jamie that I could have
addressed in my testimony. I did not know that I could have. Had I known I could, I would have told the judge, jury, and
Dr. Grant everything that is contained in this affidavit.

I swear that the foregoing is true and accurate to the best of my knowledge and belief this 7th day of May, 2001.

Further                                    affiant                                saith                                  not.
Denise Smith-Baxley

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