More light needed on abuse allegations
My colleague Bill Turque has another great story on the dispute between D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and the many teachers and readers who were offended by her statements that some of the teachers fired for budget reasons in October had also abused kids. Turque discovered that D.C. school officials reported more than 200 allegations of teacher abuse last year, but their validity is still being investigated.
I spent a lot of time on this issue and produced a series of columns in 2007. The most relevant was the story of Dawn Mosisa, a Montgomery County parent whose elementary school child was in a classroom where the teacher abused other students, but not her daughter. Her story exposed a major flaw in the way such cases are handled. Because her child was not touched, but simply observed the abuse, Mosisa and her husband could not get the school to tell them anything specific about what had actually happened, and what was being done about it.
That is the reason why I wish Nathan Saunders, general vice president of the Washington Teachers Union, had given more thought to the statement he gave to Turque. He said "the corporal punishment rules and regulations that exist are not problematic" in the District schools. I think a lot of parents and teachers would agree with me that he is wrong about that.
The first problem with his statement is that it ignores the fact, confirmed for me by educators in the District and many other places, that corporal punishment rules have not solved the problem of students using false accusations to hurt teachers they dislike. Turque's story points out that a change in the D.C. rules a few years ago corrected a situation where "teachers could be charged with corporal punishment for virtually any form of contact." But he heard the same thing from teachers in the city that I have heard: "Many instructors say they are still constantly vulnerable to false claims of mistreatment."
I have written about this before. Even a false claim can hurt a teacher badly. The news that the teacher has been cleared of the charge often does not catch up with the report of wrongdoing. The incident will always leave some doubt in some minds, derailing what could have been very productive teaching careers.
The other problem Saunders appears to be ignoring---a situation found nearly everywhere, not just D.C.--is the American education system's denial that parents of kids in the classes of abusive teachers have any right to know what is going on.
This can have heart-rending consequences. Mosisa's daughter had told her and her husband that her second grade teacher had hit one child and was verbally abusive to others. The school refused to give them any specifics, even after the teacher left. They cited privacy rules.
Their little girl went on to third grade. They figured she was over it. They were wrong. As I said in that column:
"In third grade, Mosisa's daughter was grinding through an hour and a half of homework a night. When Mosisa mentioned this to the third grade teacher at Back To School night, the teacher was puzzled. They discovered the girl had misunderstood the homework instructions, and was taking home assignments that she had not been asked to do.
"Mosisa asked her daughter why she had not spoken up, since she sat in the classroom every day, watching the teacher review homework different from what she had done. The girl said she was afraid to say anything because in her second grade teacher's class, if you got something wrong, you were ridiculed or worse."
I hope this latest outbreak of interest in this issue will lead policymakers to reexamine how we treat such cases. There must be a better way to protect students, teachers, and parents too. I vote for more sunshine, not less, on such cases so everyone will know what the facts are so they deal with them, rather than a lot of whispers.
For more Jay go to washingtonpost.com/class-struggle, for more on schools go to washingtonpost.com/education.
| February 9, 2010; 12:02 PM ET
Categories: Jay on the Web | Tags: D.C. schools, Michelle A. Rhee, Nathan Saunders, parents denied abuse information, parents ignored, students making false charges against teachers, teachers abusing students, teachers in trouble
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