Sunday, October 2, 2011

Criminal Teachers And Those Who Protect Them

As a retired teacher, I cringe when I read about wrong-doing by those in the profession. It enrages me that people occupying positions of trust and care would violate their duty to protect and nourish by exploiting their young charges. However, as one who aspires to the ideals of critical thinking, I can't turn a blind eye to these offences and wish them away.

A series in The Star, the result of a lengthy investigation, suggests a systemic problem in bringing these criminals to account. The paper theorizes that one of the reasons this is occurring, in some cases over many years, is a reluctance by teachers to inform on their colleagues. I cannot speak to that, having never known anyone to behave inappropriately in the classroom, but I do know from experience that just like the Vatican did in untold cases of pedophiliac priests, institutions try as hard as possible to conceal their problems, lest the institution suffer bad publicity that therefore impede the career paths of the ambitious.

For example, there was a case of an administrator who was stealing goods, money and services from his school; I have it on what I consider very good authority that a brave soul made every effort to bring the wrongdoing to the attention of senior administration and board officials. He was told unequivocally to drop his pursuit. Eventually, and I don't recall the precise details, his crimes became public, at which point he was permitted to resign, and the board signed a confidentiality agreement with him, an agreement that the board still insists is valid and thus binds them to secrecy. Of course, the critical thinker would immediately ask why the board entered into a secrecy agreement with him. I will leave you to ponder the implications.

The other problem, and I saw this with teachers who either had either very poor attendance or poor teaching practices, was an unwillingness by administration to confront the problem which, if done properly with several opportunities for improvement, can lead to dismissal of the teacher. The difficulty, as one of my friends and colleagues used to say was, “Lorne, they just don't want to do their jobs.”

The following example illustrates this perfectly:

Another administrator in my board, who was moved for harassing his staff as he constantly pressured them for money to feed his gambling problem, was moved to my school for a year where he was allegedly given the job of overseeing special projects which, to my knowledge, never went beyond scheduling on-calls when teachers were absent. The following year he was moved again and became an adult education administrator where, as far as I know, he finished out his career.

Note how the above shows the unwillingness to directly confront a problem employee. It was much easier to simply shift him around.

Public opinion notwithstanding, it is not unions that protect incompetence; the union's role is simply to ensure that the entire process that can lead to dismissal is scrupulously followed, which requires that administration, usually the principal, conduct many meetings with the teacher in question, offer constructive instruction as to how to improve, maintain the appropriate paperwork, etc., all guaranteed to ensure that his or her rights under the collective agreement have been observed and respected. Most principals, in my experience, did not want to put in the effort to do this, and were happy to simply arrange a transfer of the problem to another school, if one were available. Then, of course, he/she became someone else's problem.

It should be clear from the above that like so many other institution, politics in the worst sense of the word permeates education; indeed, taking a few quotes from the Star article demonstrates how officials no longer speak in meaningful ways, but use the obfuscatory language undoubtedly learned by watching the sleaziest of our so-called political leaders. Consider the following:

In an interview, College registrar Michael Salvatori said he could not discuss any individual cases. The Star had hoped Salvatori would answer questions about whether students were let down by the College or the school boards in cases where it appeared better screening or earlier detection would have saved a lot of pain.

“We are confident we have processes in place to protect students,” Salvatori said. “We can always do better.”

Asked about cases where it appears a teacher did not warn authorities of unusual behaviour (Baggio is one), Salvatori said “there are very few cases where (teachers or principals) do not carry out their duties.”

“The heart (of the College) is the public interest and safety of students,” said Salvatori, who added the College is concerned about “the welfare of students and ensuring teachers are well qualified and competent.”

I'll let you evaluate what he said, but for me, his comments do not pass the smell test.

Or consider the following criminal behaviour, which went on for 14 years, aioded and abetted by a feckless administration. I personally find the account difficult to read:

Antonio Raco

In what teachers commonly refer to as “passing the trash,” the Windsor-Essex Catholic District Board moved this Grade 6 teacher between at least four schools from 1991 to 2005. College prosecutors allege his assaults on girls from Grades 6-8 included taking students into the supply room and groping them; pulling a student close and thrusting his pelvis against her from behind; playing a game he called “Red Light,” moving his hands all over a girl's body until he touched her vagina; touching their breasts and hugging them so he could feel their breasts; and sitting on the floor in gym class and pulling girls against his groin. Raco swore at students, threw desks and played favourites. When one parent complained he told all the students he was going to “shun” her daughter. He was also, the college alleges, a dreadful educator.

One day, he told his young students never to share classroom discussions with parents: “This is Raco's circle — whatever happens in Raco's circle stays in Raco's circle.”

Raco, 53, was convicted of three counts of sexual assault in 2009 and sentenced to six months in jail. He is appealing his conviction. The College began a hearing two weeks ago but adjourned it because it was worried Raco (who was not in attendance) had not been properly notified.

Until those in positions of responsibility make the public good a priority over protecting and promoting their own careers, expect such betrayals to continue.

UPDATE: I just opened my Sunday paper, and The Star's investigation seems to be continuing. The latest headline: Sexting, cuddling with student, a teenage girl, did not cost teacher his job.

If you have the stomach for it, click on the above to read it.

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