There’s been a vigorous debate about accountability in our schools and in it there’s almost always a tacit assumption that the physical safety of the children need not be discussed, that it’s been taken care of. However, one need not think too hard about that assumption to see that it is false, as in this Texas case, and many others.
Now comes the case of Allentown, Pennsylvania, in which:
Teachers and administrators at Central Elementary School knew they had a problem with a 12-year-old who had been accused of going into a bathroom stall and sexually assaulting a first-grade boy.
But instead of calling police and removing the child, district officials covered up the attack and allowed him to remain in class, leading to the sexual assault of three more first-graders, parents say.
Pretty stupid behavior from people who are supposed to be teaching children how to grow up into responsible, thinking adults, right? Yes. But we’ve allowed a certain idea, one that has some merit but not nearly as much as it’s been given, to take precedence over both the goal of educating students to their individual potentials and common sense itself. What is that idea?
It is now a fact of life for most teachers that they must accept the presence of students in their classroom who would have been tracked to special education classes in previous generations. This leads to many disruptions and inefficiencies in the classroom and wastes considerable amounts of teachers’ time that could be used more productively. And worse.
But inclusion is required according to the new order of political correctness in education. So can the school district be blamed for following along in the wake of the national trend by including a known rapist in regular public school?
The district’s lawyer says no. But here’s more from the same article:
The assaults began in December 2003, a few months after the 12-year-old, a special education student with a history of behavioral problems, was transferred to Central Elementary from another school in the district, according to court papers.
After learning of the first assault from a second-grader who witnessed part of it, administrators kept quiet and allowed F.H. to remain in school, the lawsuit said. The 12-year-old sexually assaulted three more first-graders over the next four months, according to the parents.
The final assault, for which F.H. was found guilty in juvenile court of rape and sent to a detention center until he turns 18, took place after he was put on “hallway detention” — out of view of any teacher and next to a bathroom used by first-graders…
At a micro level there are reasons why this could happen, of course, the most valid being that the teacher in question may not have about F.H.’s crimes due to a lack of communication by officials. But speaking more broadly, everyone would agree that students’ physical safety should come before all other considerations. In that the Allentown districts’ administrators failed completely.
“I’m disgusted,” said Yolanda Colbert, 36, whose three children attend Allentown schools. “These 6-year-olds are the most vulnerable, and if adults cannot protect them, we have some serious issues in the Allentown school district.”
Obviously they do. But their issues are hardly unique. Leaving aside the question of the district’s legal liability, which may well not exist despite the administration’s numerous ethical and professional failures, there is a more fundamental discussion to be held about the state of our schools.
To me two things stand out about America’s public school system. The first is the consistent lack of parental involvement in the day-to-day operation of the schools and the lack of influence parents have over the education and the environment that their children operate in every day.
It’s true that in many cases parents simply do not care about an issue as subtle as this one. Others may never consider it an issue. For them school is what it is and it cannot be changed so why try? Many families operate in a mode that requires both parents to work full-time jobs making their involvement in school activities impossible.
But there is also a sense that one gets from teachers and administrators that, as a parent, your involvement is not wanted or is only desirable in limited, pre-defined doses that have no practical effect. This is understandable in that most educators take professional pride in their work and believe that they are doing what is best. At the same time, however, it’s a proven fact that teams are more capable of delivering a quality result – education, in this case – than individuals alone. Rather than excluding parents, schools should be asking for and even demanding day-to-day involvement from the community in which they operate.
The second issue, and one that I believe is equally important, the the distinct lack of male presence in our schools, particularly at the elementary and middle school level. Given that males comprise a shade under 50% of our populate it makes sense that they should be represented proportionally in education. However, at the critical elementary and middle school levels the vast majority of teachers are female.
This is a problem for many reasons, including the need to experience, understand, and adjust to male-oriented thinking and discipline that differ dramatically from those used by female teachers. From a social conditioning perspective, children should experience both male and female teachers so that they are prepared to deal with the fact that life after school is often dominated by male superiors.
Another reason that males should be involved in school activities is very basic: physical security. Would perverted sex offenders, irate parents, and other threats be as likely to make themselves known in schools if a full 50% of teachers and staff were male? No.
This is an entire subject to itself, one to be explored another day. For now it is enough to say that the absence of male teachers is a factor that contributes to our dysfunctional and insecure school systems. It’s time we realized that rather elementary fact.
A final note from the article:
…the parents of the fourth victim said the district has shown little regard for their son. Nobody from the district has contacted them since his rape, they said in an interview.
“It’s a constant slap in the face,” said the boy’s mother, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect her son’s privacy. “They still will not accept any responsibility. They will not accept any accountability.”
That says volumes, doesn’t it?
The school district plans to try to walk away from this case by claiming they acted in a legal fashion. As we all should recognize, that does not necessarily mean that they acted correctly or ethically. Law only is an approximation of these things, after all.
Being accountable should mean performing to a higher standard than mere legality, the bare minimum standard of acceptable behavior.