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2017: 2 former teachers imprisoned, Polk superintendent resigns amid scandal

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In a tumultuous year, 2017 saw two former teachers from local schools im-prisoned and a Polk County School superintendent ousted after three months on the job.

Bryan Aspera, 45, a former history teacher and wrestling coach at Rome High, received a 10-year sentence Oct. 26 on a charge of sexual assault by a person with a supervisory or disciplinary authority, after pleading guilty. He will serve four years behind bars and the balance on probation. He must register as a sex offender when he is released.

Aspera had a long-term sexual relationship with the girl from September 2011 until her graduation in May 2013. He was named head wrestling coach in 2012.

Assistant District Attorney Kay Ann Wetherington said in court that the sex-ual relationship started in August 2011. The then 39-year-old had taken the 16-year-old athlete to a wrestling awards banquet in Atlanta, then to a movie and dinner. The girl and Aspera would meet before school at Grizzard Park two or three times a week and go to his home for sex.

Up until the victim’s graduation in May 2013, the physical contact continued. However, the two stayed in touch online through February 2014 after she had gone off to college in Colorado.

“He took my childhood, my virginity, my safety,” the victim wrote in a statement submitted in court before the sentencing.

Former Pepperell Middle teacher Anthony Pierce Hicks, 29, was sentenced to 15 years in prison along with 55 years of probation March 7 after pleading guilty to child molestation, sexual assault by a teacher and obscene internet contact with a child.

Hicks had sent a picture of his genitalia to a student as well as coerced a stu-dent to send nude photos to him, prosecutors said. He also pleaded guilty in Floyd County Superior Court to electronically furnishing obscene material to minors.

His arrest came on April 12, 2016, a day after police were called by school officials who had caught wind about Hicks’ conversations with students.

Floyd County police Sgt. Misty Pledger said there was no actual physical contact between Hicks and the two students, both under 13 at the time; rather they involved his leading of conversations about school in an inappropriate direction.

Hicks said in court that the conversations started out as being school-related, concerning school work, after he’d given out his personal number to students who needed help. He said the nature of the conversations changed when his marriage became troubled.

Besides teaching science, Hicks also was a soccer coach. At that time both victims were on the girls soccer team, Assistant District Attorney Luke Martin said.

Darrell Wetherington resigned from his superintendent post with the Polk County School District March 1. He had yet to hit the three-month mark in the position before leaving, after taking it on at the beginning of this year.

During a special called meeting Feb. 21, the Polk County Board of Education made the call to suspend him with pay. This action came less than a week after an incident in which he disrupted class at Westside Elementary while trying to meet with his estranged wife and teacher, Jennifer Wetherington, according to Cedartown police.

The former superintendent showed up to the school the afternoon of Feb. 17, under the pretense of bringing a Diet Coke to her. She told police she was sur-prised by his presence and tried to break off the conversation several times. He was not prohibited from coming to the school at that time.

However, a temporary protective order was issued against him following the incident, requiring him to stay away from his estranged wife, according to a court filing in Tallapoosa Circuit Superior Court.

The TPO alleges Darrell Wetherington was engaged in stalking activities leading up to the Westside incident.

Jennifer Wetherington claims he was also involved in an extramarital affair and since their split had “refused to stop contacting her.” Divorce papers filed earlier last month cited the reason for the breakup of their marriage as irrecon-cilable differences.

Rome News-Tribune Staff Writers Spencer Lahr and Diane Wagner along with Managing Editor John Bailey contributed to this report. Polk Standard Journal Editor Kevin Myrick also contributed to this report.