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Abuse charge a "wake up call" for teacher

There's clearly much more to say about corporal punishment than can be captured in one smallish newspaper piece. Among the things that fell out of the article because of space limitations was my interview with Angelo Parodi, a fifth grade teacher at Eaton Elementary.

His experience is a reminder that the 220 reports we described in today's paper are only allegations -- until DCPS or the police can say how many were ultimately substantiated.

Parodi recounts the following: He was teaching second grade at Meyer Elementary in 2006 when he had a boy in his class with what he called "a history of opposition." The student's mother gave Parodi her cell phone number and encouraged him to call whenever there was a problem. One day, after the boy repeatedly refused to do a simple math problem, Parodi pulled out his phone.

"I said, 'In two minutes you're either going to be working or I'll call your mom,' " Parodi recalled. The student finally started to work.

The next day a school counselor came to Parodi and said the boy's parents were waiting to see him. He had told his parents that Parodi had choked him.

"Do I look insane?" Parodi said he asked the counselor.

Parodi said investigators interviewed children in the class and eventually told him that his story matched those of the students. The experience left him with a new sense of caution about his interactions with kids.

"You're extremely vulnerable to people who can make these accusations," he said. "It was a wake up call."

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By Bill Turque  |  February 9, 2010; 5:00 PM ET
 
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Comments

The same thing, though not as bad, happened to me. I yelled at a child who had been defiant and he ran away from me, not doing what I told him to do. He ran straight to the principal's office and said I had hit him. The principal was relatively new and took the sttement at face value. The previous principal would have told him to stop his foolishness and go on to class. But the current principal told me to get an incident report from the security guard and write my statement. Nothing more happened after I turned in my statement. No investigators came. I later heard that one of the other children in the class was interviewed and she said that the child and I argued, but that I didn't hit him. I later spoke to the child's parents and said that there could have been consequences for their child lying about me and they apologized.
Many WaPo readers don't have any idea what many of us teachers in inner city schools go through, the out of control behaviors, the unsupportive parents and the lack of support. I consider myself lucky that this incident ended and didn't go any further. I knew of teachers removed from the classroom pending an investigation which took months, and they were cleared. Some went through awful ordeals over nothing. Readers shouldn't be so quick to judge teachers.

Posted by: chelita | February 9, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

In my 42 years of teaching in a low-income school, I don't remember a single incidence of a teacher hurting a child and getting away with it. Two teachers were fired; one for hitting a disabled child and one for suspicion of molestation (He was acquitted by the court, but the superintendent still had his credential pulled.) However, the case I remember vividly is this one:

A very mild-mannered neighbor of mine, who taught in L.A. Unified, was stunned one day when the police showed up at his door and accused him of impregnating a girl at his school. The young teacher and his wife started to become hysterical but the police officer calmed them with these words: "Don't worry, we get these reports all the time and most of them are false."

Sure enough, the teacher had been "off track" at the time of conception and the girl admitted that her boyfriend was the father. She named the teacher because her mother insisted on a name. The real father was later positively identified but the young teacher didn't even get an apology.

On a more personal level, one day my own eleven-year-old son came home from his private school and announced "The teacher's crazy. I'm not going back." It turned out that she was threatening the children with a gun (imaginary) and she WAS mentally ill. I withdrew my son immediately as did several other parents. Finally in October she resigned but my son never went back. His public school was much better.

Parents, your child is not a prisoner. If you live in the city, there are other classes, other schools. Never keep your child in a class when you suspect abuse. These things can happen to teachers AND students and they should never be ignored.

Bill Turque, keep digging. People need to know the truth about these accusations. Please forgive my cynicism, but I strongly suspect Rhee is using these unsupported "allegations" as a cover for her Fast Company faux pas.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | February 9, 2010 6:26 PM | Report abuse

The most important protections provided by teachers unions are due process and liability insurance. All DCPS teachers are at risk of being falsely accused of corporal punishment by students and parents. This is one of the reasons why I would not work in any school without union representation.

Posted by: Nemessis | February 9, 2010 6:59 PM | Report abuse

Bill,

I find it very telling that this example was omitted from the article. How convenient for the Washington Post editorial board and all of those trying to bash the union for "protecting" child abusers.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | February 9, 2010 9:06 PM | Report abuse

NEVER FORGET:
His reputation sullied, teacher commits suicide
False accusation leads to tragedy in Virginia city

http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2004/02/15/his_reputation_sullied_teacher_commits_suicide/

False Accusations Make Teacher's Life a Nightmare
Behavior: Seven students accused him of sexual touching, then admitted they lied. Regrets fail to explain conduct.

http://articles.latimes.com/2000/mar/26/news/mn-12749

Posted by: edlharris | February 9, 2010 9:51 PM | Report abuse

I am very concerned that accusations are taken as facts in such cases. They need to be proven, and that's what the Washington Teachers Union probably does---demands that such are deemed true before terminating a teacher or pursuing other legal action. Isn't this guaranteed here in the US, "innocent until proven guilty"? Even if there were 200 or more reports filed, after investigations were conducted, how many were proven to be true? How many school staff members were reprimanded as a result? Finally, when do we stop beating up on a union that works to protect its members? That's the job of unions. The truth is most public school teachers are highly qualified, extremely dedicated, and very trustworthy unlike what's projected in the media.

Posted by: wordwise1 | February 10, 2010 8:16 AM | Report abuse

This is so biased it's ridiculous. Some kid made an allegation to his parents, the counselor followed up and all other kids in the class supported the teacher's version -- end of story. This was not a career ruined, allegations run amuck. Sounds like the system worked just the way it should.

Hey Bill, how about covering some instances where parents (not kids) made serious abuse allegations -- supported by all eyewitness kids in the class -- and the teachers were never removed from the classrooms?

Posted by: trace1 | February 10, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

This is so biased it's ridiculous.

This is a fact.
How are facts biased?

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | February 10, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

trace1, please explain to me how this is biased. I can tell by reading your posts that you have the best interests of DCPS kids in mind, but lately it's come off as unabashed teacher-bashing, which wins you no allies in the hundreds of dedicated DCPS teachers who want only the most effective colleagues in our schools with us.

Unbiased reporting shows all aspects of a story- good, bad, or ugly. In the case of the school abuse allegations, unbiased reporting means: 1) reporting on allegations of teachers abusing students, 2) the results of such allegations, whether found to be 2a)true or 2b)untrue, 3) the consequences for the teachers in question, whether found to be 3a) guilty, or 3b) not guilty, and finally, 4) a full report of allegations of students abusing teachers, 4a) whether they were found to be true or 4b) untrue, and 5) the consequences for students found to be 5a) guilty or 5b) not guilty, and if not guilty, 5c) the consequences for the teacher found to be fabricating the story.

Turque's story yesterday only covered #1. In today's blog post, he sought to add more detail, covering 2b and 3b. I hope central office will be forthcoming with details about items 3-5, specifically 2a and 3a, as they involve children being abused.

Posted by: uva007 | February 10, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

One factor of media bias is deciding which angles to cover, and which to ignore. See: Richard Alan Nelson's (2003) study Tracking Propaganda to the Source: Tools for Analyzing Media Bias. Nelson identifies ten factors including this one, which I think Turque falls prey to with this piece:

Framing devices are employed in stories by featuring some angles and downplaying others.

uva007 -
I agree with you completely. Problem is, I don't think Turque will move on to the rest of your categories and bring us anecdotes from parents, kids, etc., that would flesh out these perspectives. I think he is going to stop with this. We'll see.

For what it's worth, I think the Post's editorial page has been biased in the other direction. Some balance all around is in order.

Posted by: trace1 | February 10, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Fascinating!

I know Mr. Parodi. If our paths cross again I will ask him about this story. This is the first time that a teacher I've met before ended up in a Bill Turque article.

Posted by: bbcrock | February 11, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

"How are facts biased?"

Someone needs to go back to high school because that is a laughable question.

Facts are not biased because they are a philosophical construct but the human presentation of facts is biased by the biases of the human doing the writing/presentation. sheesh.

Posted by: bbcrock | February 11, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

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