I’ve written the education column for TIME since 2010 and today’s is my least favorite of all of them because it deals with such a revolting issue – adults in school who prey on kids. They’re a very small minority but the problem is more widespread than some assume. And it’s one we should confront forthrightly – the history of other institutions makes that clear.
When Bud Spillane was a school superintendent in New Rochelle, N.Y., he had to deal with removing an elementary school teacher suspected of sex abuse. “It was pretty evident he had done something,” Spillane recalls. The biggest obstacle to removing him from the classroom? “Parents came out of the woodwork…against me,” he says. They loved the teacher, the afterschool time he put in, and the weekend trips he liked to take students on, so they fought to keep him in school. Later in Spillane’s career, while he was leading the Fairfax County Public Schools outside of Washington, he had a teacher’s attorney demand a public hearing in a dismissal action involving multiple instances of alleged sexual misconduct with students. It was a shrewd move; instead of letting the school board handle the action in a private executive session, the lawyer wanted to force children to testify in court. Several parents understandably refused to put their kids through that spectacle. Welcome to the complicated and ugly world of sexual abuse in schools.