A former aide at East Lawrence High School was arrested on Aug. 5 amid allegations she gave a 16-year-old boy alcohol and marijuana while involved in a sexual relationship with him, and the mother of the boy says she intends to sue the school system for $52 million in damages.
Lawrence County Sheriff Gene Mitchell said 37-year-old Rebecca Leigh Nichols, of 240 County Road 221 in Moulton, turned herself in and was arrested, charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a Class A misdemeanor. She was released the same night on $500 bond.
Mitchell said the arrest warrant states the offenses happened between March and June 2009. He said his department received the warrant on Aug. 4.
Authorities said the arrest warrant was signed by Tina Coleman, the mother of the alleged victim. Rebecca Nichols is married to East Lawrence High School principal Ricky Nichols. The two are in the process of getting a divorce, Ricky Nichols said.
When contacted for comment, Coleman referred all questions to her attorney, Hubert Porter of Hartselle. Porter said he could not comment specifically on the case, but did say that “demand letters,” or formal complaints, what he called a precursor to a lawsuit, had been mailed to members of the Lawrence County School board and other key individuals involved in the case.
A copy of that letter, obtained by The Advertiser, charges board members and other school officials of “ignoring a Lawrence County Board employee who, while working directly under a principal and superintendent, was allowed to sexually abuse” the student.
“This abuse appears to have been unlawful and inappropriate,” the letter states. “The minor is in need of counseling and will need such for a very long time. Such intensive counseling will be very expensive.”
According to the letter, Coleman intends to file the lawsuit by Aug. 17.
Jerome Thompson, the attorney who represents the Lawrence County School Board, said he will take the necessary measures to defend the school system when he sees a lawsuit.
“There is a difference between intending to sue someone and suing them,” he said. “And a great difference in filing suit and winning. If and when we are served, we will proceed with all available measures. But at this point, my investigation shows the school system had no knowledge of any act alleged in the letter, and no evidence exists that anything happened at the school. Further, we will put forth every immunity defense available to us.”
The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that school boards are agents of the state and has held that boards are immune from tort actions.
“We take all litigation seriously,” Thompson said. “However, in this case, I have not found a shred of evidence that indicates or supports the allegation Mr. Nichols, Mr. Grimes, or the Board members had any knowledge of any alleged wrongdoing. Mr. Nichols is a great principal who has taken a zero-tolerance stance against drugs and other illegal activity on the school campus. I regret that Mr. Nichols has been drawn into this situation. He is a man of integrity.”
The letter suggests Coleman might be interested in a settlement.
“Should you desire to negotiate a settlement prior to the lawsuit being filed in the Circuit Court of Lawrence County, please contact me,” Porter wrote. “Such negotiations may preclude adverse publicity and possibly resolve other issues.”
Thompson said at this point there is no intent by the school system to enter into any kind of discussion about a settlement.
Rebecca Nichols’ contract was non-renewed in May because at the time, school system officials did not believe the funding for her aide position was going to be available. Later, according to board meeting minutes, the board was able to hire someone for the job, but Rebecca Nichols was not re-hired for the position.
Mitchell said the details of the case were such that the only charge that could be made against Nichols was a misdemeanor of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Coleman said in published media reports that Rebecca Nichols should be charged with rape.
Porter said the exact details of how and when the sexual contact was initiated and carried out, and who initiated it first, are still being looked into. According to reports, the student gave a statement that indicated he and Rebecca Nichols had sex “several” times and that she gave him the drugs and alcohol in May.
Ricky Nichols said the student’s contact with his family started last fall during football season, and that he invited the young man over for Thanksgiving dinner because his stepson had a relationship with the boy and he didn’t think the boy had plans for Thanksgiving.
“I hated to see that,” Ricky Nichols said.
Nichols said he didn’t fault the student, because “no kid should have to be put in a situation where they have to make adult decisions.”
“People have been asking me how I’m handling this and being so calm,” Nichols said. “And I tell them my focus is going to be to educate these kids. I have 500 sets of eyes and ears watching me to see if I practice what I preach, to look to me as an example to do the right thing. And that’s what I’m trying to do, to love kids and take care of kids.”
Mitchell said Nichols’ case was placed on the Sept. 3 District Court docket. According to Alabama criminal code, a Class A misdemeanor charge is punishable by up to one year in prison.
Rebecca Nichols could not be reached for comment.