Monday, May 16, 2011

Fairfax County, VA teacher fights to recover life, reputation after acquittal for what seems like a "revenge" accusation by a student; Should schools require a "do not touch" policy?

On Sunday, Tom Jackman ran a detailed story about a Fairfax County Public School system elementary school physical education teacher who was acquitted of dubious charges made in early 2010 by a female student, 12, who may have been motivated by a desire to “get back” for being properly disciplined.

The teacher may have picked up the student briefly, but this is not illegal in and of itself in some kinds of classes or situations. Having worked as a substitute teacher myself, and encountered some bizarre issues myself (check the “BillBoushka” blog July 25 and 27, 2007), it strikes me as unwise to ever touch a student, at least of that age, at school. But maybe that’s just my own introversion.  

Despite the acquittal and partial reinstatement after transfer, the teacher is unable to get his attorney’s fees paid. Instead, FCPS has been developing a written reprimand letter and taking the position that students must never be touched. But is that reasonable?  Many teachers are used to some family-style interaction with students. I am not, but that’s me.

The link for the story is here.

The story shows that acquittal in our system doesn’t quickly repair someone’s reputation, or undo the damage done by having to defend oneself from false charges.

It seems as though teachers are at risk, particularly older male teachers from female students, who may have a grudge over bad grades or other disciplinary actions. School systems and teachers are caught in the middle of this. The problem would discourage many (including me, given what happened in 2005) from going into teaching permanently. 

I now generally don't repeat the name of an acquitted (or charged but not convicted) person for search engines to pick up one more time, but here is a site (named provocatively "BadBadTeacher.com") that (however after-the-fact and ironically, as if surprised by the acquittal) explores the issue of the damage to the teacher’s reputation.  Micheal Fertik, of Reputation Defender, could weigh in on this case.  

It's ironic that this story appears in the Washington Post on the same day that CNN runs a major documentary on education ("Do Fail Me: Education in America"), reviewed yesterday on my TV blog.

On May 19, on p A18 in print, The Washington Post ran a major editorial on this case calling for the FCPS system to make things fully whole for the teacher. Even though Virginia has better procedural protections against wrongful prosecutions than some other states (like North Carolina in the lacrosse case), the Fairfax County Police Department needed some "soul searching", it said. 

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