The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, February 4, 1998

Riverdale Christian school's founder back after charges dropped,
By Bill Montgomery, Staff Writer

The founder of a private Riverdale Christian school, who was barred from the grounds for 13 months while Clayton County prosecutors pursued child cruelty charges in the spanking of an 11-year-old boy, is back in charge this week.

At the start of Judith Lyon's trial last week, District Attorney Bob Keller dropped charges against the director of Solid Rock Academy, after her lawyers convinced him that the punishment, sanctioned by state law, was "administered in good faith and (was) not excessive or unduly severe."

"I knew from the beginning I had not committed any crime," Lyon said Tuesday. "Truth pressed down or covered will find a way to rise above, and I stand exonerated of all charges."

Lyon, 46, was charged in December 1996, when the boy's mother, Mary Barr-Baxton, filed a complaint that the director spanked her son on the legs with a pair of taped-together rulers that were given the name "Freddy."

"It seems like the law is protecting the person who struck my son," said Barr-Baxton. "What picture does this paint for the children? I feel an injustice was done."

The school currently has about 130 students, from 3-years-old through eighth grade.

Richard Coleman, an Atlanta lawyer representing Lyon, said she was barred from entering school grounds while charges were pending, a state requirement.

Keller drafted a motion to dismiss the criminal charges based on a state law allowing corporal punishment in schools that was upheld by the Georgia Court of Appeals in a 1985 Clayton County case.

Ruling in a suit filed by the parent of a boy who was spanked, then-Appeals Court Judge Robert Benham wrote that "it is to be anticipated that corporal punishment will produce pain and the potential for bruising."

The appellate court backed up a trial court's finding that a student suffered nothing more than "the short-term discomfort to be expected from the administration of corporal punishment."

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