IN­NO­CENT

The Covington News - - Lo­cal news -

was as­signed to work with the se­vere/ pro­found dis­abled stu­dents, who range in age from 16 to 21 years old but have the men­tal ca­pa­bil­i­ties of a tod­dler. All were non­ver­bal.

“ There is noth­ing cooler than see­ing a kid that came in at the be­gin­ning of the year and to­ward the end of the year be­ing able to pick up a spoon and feed him­self when he couldn’t at the be­gin­ning of the year. I’ll tell you right now, that is awe­some,” Der­rick said. “ It seems like very ba­sic stuff, but the main thing I was taught in school and in grad­u­ate school is that you need to try to make these chil­dren as in­de­pen­dent as pos­si­ble be­cause what that does is that helps them, that helps the fam­ily, that helps ev­ery­one that takes care of that kid.”

Mandy said it takes a spe­cial per­son and spe­cial train­ing to be able to ef­fi­ciently and com­pas­sion­ately deal with se­verely dis­abled stu­dents.

As a den­tal hy­gien­ist, she ad­mit­ted she would have no idea how to han­dle a spe­cial ed class­room, but that Der­rick was ex­cel­lent at it.

“ If they were un­com­fort­able, he knew ex­actly what to do to make them com­fort­able,” Mandy said. “ He knew how to teach them, he knew how to com­mu­ni­cate with them and you have to have a gift to be able to do that.”

Der­rick was well on his way to earn­ing a Master’s of Spe­cial Ed­u­ca­tion in March when deputies came to his class­room in the morn­ing and ar­rested him and the other ac­cused para­pro. He was taken to the county de­ten­tion cen­ter, pro­cessed and placed in a cell with an­other in­mate.

It was the first time he had ever been ar­rested.

“ I was raised by a preacher. I spent my whole life look­ing at the Bible and at what’s right and wrong and then this comes and just blind­sides you,” Der­rick said.

In shock, he de­cided to use his phone call to call his fa­ther-in-law, who he de­scribed as the “ rock” of the fam­ily. Af­ter the ini­tial as­ton­ish­ment, his fa­ther-in­law told him not to worry, that ev­ery­thing would be OK and that he would call the rest of the fam­ily.

Mandy was at work that Thurs­day when she re­ceived the call that Der­rick had been ar­rested.

“ We work a half a day on Thurs­days and he was ar­rested on a Thurs­day and all I can say is, I’m glad I didn’t have to see any pa­tients that af­ter­noon be­cause I prob­a­bly couldn’t have,” Mandy said. “ We’ve known each other our whole lives and I know there’s not a mean bone in his body. That’s why I couldn’t be­lieve some­body that knew him would say that he could do some­thing like that and try to hurt some­body else.”

Der­rick and Mandy said they later learned that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the al­le­ga­tions be­gan the day af­ter he was ar­rested and that proper pro­ce­dures were not fol­lowed in re­port­ing the in­ci­dent. Ap­par­ently, ac­cord­ing to the Roberts, sev­eral links in the chain of com­mand were skipped over by the ac­cus­ing em­ployee.

“ We don’t want to point any fin­gers, but the main prob­lem here is that the pro­ce­dures that are in the school sys­tem that are in place to stop some­thing like this did not get fol­lowed,” Der­rick said. “ That’s the thing that’s crazy to us is that any­one can ac­cuse you of any­thing and the per­son who is the ac­cuser doesn’t have to pay for it.”

Mean­while, Der­rick re­signed from the job he cher­ished and Mandy missed sev­eral days of work to at­tend court dates with him. Be­cause Der­rick has al­ways worked two jobs, he was never with­out a pay­check. How­ever, he was out of the class­room and off the field he loved.

“ We try to re­main pos­i­tive people,” Mandy said. “ We be­lieve that ev­ery­thing in our life hap­pens for a rea­son and so even though some­times you don’t know what that rea­son is, you be­lieve that God is lead­ing you some­where.”

Out­side of neg­a­tive news­pa­per and tele­vi­sion cov­er­age, Der­rick and Mandi said col­leagues, par­ents, stu­dents and friends ral­lied around them in sup­port. They said with­out en­cour­age­ment and faith from the community, they prob­a­bly would have moved away from Cov­ing­ton.

“ Ev­ery­body that knows me and un­der­stands me, knows that I’m all about tak­ing care of kids,” Der­rick said.

The Roberts said they are plan­ning to en­joy Christ­mas this year. Der­rick has no im­me­di­ate plan to re­turn to ed­u­ca­tion, although he did fin­ish his mas­ters in May.

He said the hard­est part of the en­tire or­deal was know­ing how much Mandy and his fam­ily were wor­ry­ing about him. He said the ex­pe­ri­ence taught him how strong his mar­riage is. Both Der­rick and Mandy said they now re­al­ize how quickly life can change.

“ I love foot­ball so much be­cause life and foot­ball are so much alike in that from one play to an­other or one day to an­other you don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen — you don’t know if you’re go­ing to make that tackle, you don’t know if you’re go­ing to catch that ball, but if you work hard things are go­ing to go your way and even­tu­ally you’re go­ing to win that game or you’re go­ing to be a suc­cess­ful per­son,” Der­rick said. “ That’s what I taught my kids and what I still talk to my play­ers about. You just work as hard as you pos­si­bly can and see where that yard line is and that’s it.”

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