Editorial: Molesters for export It's elementary: Schools shouldn't 'pass the trash' Sunday, November 07, 1999 Some things are so obvious that it's almost embarrassing to have to point them out in an editorial. Here's one: Never, under any circumstances, give a positive recommendation to a teacher you had to get rid of because he molested students in your district. In fact, you should make it your business to inform every potential employer of the danger.
Here's another one: Before you hire a teacher, use every means at your disposal to make certain that he has not been fired for, or convicted of, sexually abusing children.
Those warnings clearly fit in the "duh" category of helpful suggestions. And yet, as Post-Gazette staff writers Jane Elizabeth Zemel and Steve Twedt outlined in their chilling series "Dirty Secrets," failure to follow such common-sense guidelines results in abusive teachers moving from district to district, molesting child after child before they are finally stopped.
They are able to accomplish this because some school systems are only too willing to "pass the trash" if it means their problem will quietly go away. For that to happen, administrators cannot reveal to other districts why a teacher left, or that he was asked to leave. In some egregious cases, it means that administrators will go so far as to recommend the offending teacher.
A district in Nebraska said that a teacher "showed an interest in his students," but neglected to point out that the interest was in the form of inappropriate touching, dirty jokes and other offensive behavior that led to a reprimand and pressure to resign. The Texas district that received that recommendation hired the teacher, Michael J. Kluck, as a football coach. Eventually Kluck was indicted for molesting a boy at the new school. After initially denying the accusations, he pleaded guilty to two felony counts of indecency with a child.
That such an incident could happen at all boggles the mind. That it is not an isolated case makes the blood boil.
Both hiring and firing districts (and the states in which they are located) must take steps to limit such outrages in the future. Administrators not only must be encouraged to tell the truth about a deviant teacher, but they also must be held legally accountable if they fail to do so. A few states already require such honesty, but all need to join that bandwagon.
Information about teachers who are fired or forced to resign for sexual conduct with students should be passed on to the state education department, and that information must be kept current and available to schools around the country. A national registry makes even more sense. Greater uniformity in regulations is important, in general, because the current patchwork can help sexual abusers move around from state to state for years without being stopped.
One of the most important things a hiring district can do is require that all prospective teachers be fingerprinted so that past convictions and arrests can be found and tracked. Pennsylvania requires fingerprinting only for applicants who have lived in the state less than a year. The requirement should apply to all applicants.
Even if those steps are scrupulously followed, some pedophiles will slip under the radar screen. They will lie or obfuscate and be clever enough to get hired. The best background checks, regulatory system and law enforcement in the world cannot stop every criminal.
Moreover, in this as in other areas, zeal must be tempered with a concern for civil rights. For example, we are wary of proposals that would eliminate or significantly lengthen statutes of limitations on sexual abuse crimes and of suggestions that there be FBI background checks and psychological profiling of education majors in college.
First things first. Administrators must take the critically important steps of telling the truth about predatory teachers and doing thorough background checks on potential employees. Those two efforts alone would dramatically curtail the incidence of repeat offenders shuffling from system to system. And success could be measured in the untold children who would be spared the trauma of sexual abuse.
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