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Posted at 6:51 PM ET, 01/12/2011

When teachers are wrongly accused of sex abuse

By William J. Cummings, Fairfax

Regarding the Jan. 10 Metro story "Virginia schools study proposal on sex abuse":

I read with interest and disgust the excellent story in The Post several months ago describing the devious means by which disgraced former school teacher Kevin Ricks is alleged to have victimized children over a 30-year period. Something needs to be done to minimize the likelihood that another teacher can perpetrate such heinous crimes against children and float between school systems before a thorough investigation can be undertaken and, if the facts support it, be aggressively prosecuted and imprisoned for proven wrongdoing.

What shouldn't be lost in the public outrage over the Ricks case are the times when teachers are falsely accused of sexual crimes. Such was the case with my friend Sean Lanigan, a Centreville teacher who was alleged in January 2010 to have molested a 12-year-old female student. After multiple slipshod Fairfax County investigations that clearly presumed guilt on the part of a teacher rather than innocence, and a tortuous and expensive four-day trial that could have landed Mr. Lanigan in prison for up to 40 years, he was unanimously and expeditiously found not guilty by a jury in May.

It should be a priority of the Virginia Board of Education to build into its current deliberations a means by which the privacy of teachers and students are protected in equal measure until a comprehensive examination of the facts can be made by competent authorities. Despite his innocence, Mr. Lanigan and his family will live with the public shame of the baseless charges against him for the rest of his life, thanks to Fairfax County Public Schools and the Internet.

By William J. Cummings, Fairfax  | January 12, 2011; 6:51 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Virginia, crime, education, schools  
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