Education’s Darkest Corner – Sex Abuse

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.

You can read the entire column – which includes more context –  via this link.

3 Replies to “Education’s Darkest Corner – Sex Abuse”

  1. I just wanted to thank you for writing on this topic. It’s so important to keep the issue in the forefront and keep reminding people how short-sighted it is to pretend the problem doesn’t exist.

  2. Fortunately, in the Los Angeles case, Assemblyman Ricardo Luna has asked for an audit of how the district handled the situation. My guess is that an investigation will find a dramatic administrative oversight. The teachers in question probably received generic but “good” evaluations over many years with principals not knowing what was going on behind locked doors. Some of these evaluations might even have been copied from books for administrators. They will also find that complaints from students and parents were swept under the rug, police were belatedly involved and the superintendent failed to report the abuse to the CA Commission on Teacher Credentialing, as required by law. I wouldn’t be surprised if the audit uncovers a lack of supervision that borders on the criminal. The school principal is basically paid to know what is going on in each classroom and to ensure the safety of students and staff.

    During my 42 years of teaching, two teachers were fired for sexual abuse. Both were placed on paid administrative leave on the day that the abuse was REPORTED (It’s not necessary to wait for proof). After they were indicted, they both went on unpaid leave. One teacher was convicted and automatically fired (a teacher loses his credential when convicted of a felony so the district doesn’t even have to bother with firing him. Besides, a person can hardly teach while he is in prison). The other teacher was represented by a very sharp attorney who won an acquittal. However, because of this man’s history of unprofessional conduct, the superintendent was able to have his credential pulled by the state. In the case of Superintendent Bud Spillane, his duty was to protect the children when “it was pretty obvious [the teacher] had [abused children].” He should have explained to parents that he had to abide by the law, which requires the good-faith SUSPICION of abuse to be reported to police. I certainly hope he didn’t allow the teacher to be with the kids once he was certain the teacher “had done so.” I suspect this is exactly what happened at Miramonte and I hope the principal, the previous principal and the last two superintendents lose their jobs. After all, citizens are demanding “accountability” and rightly so.

    If districts care about the children, they will do anything to protect them when abuse is suspected. The law is heavily on the side of people taking action against child abuse of any kind.

    During my tenure, I also knew of two teachers who were falsely accused by vindictive high school students. These teachers did fight back and rightly so. In both instances the students confessed to their lies and teachers sued and won. Yes, when the teachers are innocent, it is expensive for all concerned.

    I want to conclude by saying that this scandal is front page news because almost all teachers are protectors, and not abusers, of children.

  3. With the recent number of incidents involving students being sexually abused by teachers I think we need to take a long hard look at how these incidents are handled. If we do, it will be a sad day as we will find that the perpetrators are more protected than the innocents whose life they are destroying.

    The following example illustrates this point. There is a case on Long Island where a level one sex offender was allowed to “retire” in between the time he was arrested and the time he pleaded guilty. Subsequent to his arrest, no real investigation was done to see if there are other victims. He now collects a nice NYS pension and is living off our tax dollars.

    He recently has made some posts defending his position on the following blog:

    If offers a fascinating, albeit sick look into the minds of those whom our children are being left in the hands of. Maybe its’ time someone takes a really close look at how these incidents are handled in our state. I think there are 3 clear questions that arise from cases like this:

    1) Are we doing enough to protect our children or do we need stronger consequences to predators who take jobs in the school systems to gain exposure to potential victims?

    2) How is it legal for a perpetrator of any kind of child abuse, especially someone who used their job to gain exposure to victims, allowed to live off of tax payor money?

    3) How is it legal for schools NOT to do a thorough investigation once a predator is found in their employ when some studies show child abusers can have over 100 victims?

    4) Why do the media keep publishing stories about these incidents and never address these questions?

    I hope at some point our society gains the strength to protect our children and answer these questions

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