Saturday, August 2, 2008

Some Things Shouldn't End Up in the Newspaper

The state Supreme Court made a major ruling on Thursday regarding teachers who are accused of sexual misconduct. From the Seattle Times:

The state Supreme Court issued a ruling Thursday that pitted the fear of stigmatizing an innocent teacher against the threat of allowing sexual predators in the schools to escape detection.

The scenario before the court was this: A teacher is accused of sexually abusing a student. The school decides the allegation is unsubstantiated. Under state law, should the teacher's name be disclosed?

By a 6-3 vote, the court fell on the side of accused teachers. The names of teachers must be disclosed only in cases where sexual misconduct has been found or some form of discipline has taken place, the court ruled. In unsubstantiated cases, the details of any investigation may be disclosed — but with the teacher's name redacted, or blacked out.
A big part of this goes back to the big Coaches Who Prey series that the Times did several years ago. Now they're looking for other predators, but I think they threw their nets way too wide, and the Court made a good decision.

There are already mandatory reporting laws in place; any school official who reasonably suspects abuse must report to the authorities. What the media was asking here was basically for carte blanche access to any allegation, ever--the 7th grade girl who makes up a story and promptly takes it back, the high school student who goes for street cred by manufacturing a liason between himself and the female math teacher, the crazy parent who has accused every teacher their daughter had of some sort of perversion or another.

Imagine a world where all those allegations were put into a nice spreadsheet and published as a table in your local paper. If your name is on that list guilt or innocence don't matter--you're already smeared by association. That's no way to keep teachers in the classroom, it's no way to attract people to the classroom, and it's no way to conduct an investigation.

The papers, of course, are apoplectic. The Times tries to make it sound like a union issue and notes that you have a chance to vote for the judges who wrote on either side of the decision, while Steven Smith of the Spokesman-Review calls it "a stunning ruling" and furthers the anti-union theme. Then there's the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, and commentary from Education Week here.

Doing everything to protect kids doesn't mean exposing their teachers to all the slings and arrows of the newspapers. I like the court's ruling--what do you think?

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