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AP: Sexual Misconduct Plagues US Schools

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"They can't see what's in front of their face. Not unlike a kid in an alcoholic family, who'll say 'My family is great,'" says McGrath, the California lawyer and investigator who now trains entire school systems how to recognize what she calls the unmistakable "red flags" of misconduct.

In Hamburg, Pa., in 2002, those "red flags" should have been clear. A student skipped classes every day to spend time with one teacher. He gave her gifts and rides in his car. She sat on his lap. The bond ran so deep that the student got chastised repeatedly _ even suspended once for being late and absent so often. But there were no questions for the teacher.

Heather Kline was 12, a girl with a broad smile and blond hair pulled back tight. Teacher Troy Mansfield had cultivated her since she was in his third-grade class.

"Kids, like, idolized me because they thought I was, like, cool because he paid more attention to me," says Kline, now 18, sitting at her mother's kitchen table, sorting through a file of old poems and cards from Mansfield. "I was just like really comfortable. I could tell him anything."

He never pushed her, just raised the stakes, bit by bit _ a comment about how good she looked, a gift, a hug.

She was sure she was in love.

By winter of seventh grade, he was sneaking her off in his car for an hour of sex, dropping in on her weekly baby-sitting duties, e-mailing about what clothes she should wear, about his sexual fantasies, about marriage and children.

Mansfield finally got caught by the girl's mother, and his own words convicted him. At his criminal trial in 2004, Heather read his e-mails and instant messages aloud, from declarations of true love to explicit references to past sex. He's serving up to 31 years in state prison.

The growing use of e-mails and text messages is leaving a trail that investigators and prosecutors can use to prove an intimate relationship when other evidence is hard to find.

Even then, many in the community find it difficult to accept that a predator is in their midst. When these cases break, defendants often portray the students as seducers or false accusers. However, every investigator questioned said that is largely a misconception.

"I've been involved in several hundred investigations," says Martin Bates, an assistant superintendent in a Salt Lake City school district. "I think I've seen that just a couple of times ... where a teacher is being pursued by a student."

Too often, problem teachers are allowed to leave quietly. That can mean future abuse for another student and another school district.

"They might deal with it internally, suspending the person or having the person move on. So their license is never investigated," says Charol Shakeshaft, a leading expert in teacher sex abuse who heads the educational leadership department at Virginia Commonwealth University.

It's a dynamic so common it has its own nicknames _ "passing the trash" or the "mobile molester."

Laws in several states require that even an allegation of sexual misconduct be reported to the state departments that oversee teacher licenses. But there's no consistent enforcement, so such laws are easy to ignore.

School officials fear public embarrassment as much as the perpetrators do, Shakeshaft says. They want to avoid the fallout from going up against a popular teacher. They also don't want to get sued by teachers or victims, and they don't want to face a challenge from a strong union.

In the Iowa case, Lindsey agreed to leave without fighting when his bosses kept the reason for his departure confidential. The decades' worth of allegations against him would have stayed secret, if not for Bramow.

Across the country, such deals and lack of information-sharing allow abusive teachers to jump state lines, even when one school does put a stop to the abuse.

While some schools and states have been aggressive about investigating problem teachers and publicizing it when they're found, others were hesitant to share details of cases with the AP _ Alabama and Mississippi among the more resistant. Maine, the only state that gave the AP no disciplinary information, has a law that keeps offending teachers' cases secret.

Meanwhile, the reasons given for punishing hundreds of educators, including many in California, were so vague there was no way to tell why they'd been punished, until further investigation by AP reporters revealed it was sexual misconduct.

And in Hawaii, no educators were disciplined by the state in the five years the AP examined, even though some teachers there were serving sentences for various sex crimes during that time. They technically remained teachers, even behind bars.

Elsewhere, there have been fitful steps toward catching errant teachers that may be having some effect. The AP found the number of state actions against sexually abusive teachers rose steadily, to a high of 649 in 2005.

More states now require background checks on teachers, fingerprinting and mandatory reporting of abuse, though there are still loopholes and a lack of coordination among districts and states.

U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the last 20 years on civil rights and sex discrimination have opened schools up to potentially huge financial punishments for abuses, which has driven some schools to act.

And the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification keeps a list of educators who've been punished for any reason, but only shares the names among state agencies.

The uncoordinated system that's developed means some teachers still fall through the cracks. Aaron M. Brevik is a case in point.

Brevik was a teacher at an elementary school in Warren, Mich., until he was accused of using a camera hidden in a gym bag to secretly film boys in locker rooms and showers. He also faced charges that he recorded himself molesting a boy while the child slept.

Found guilty of criminal sexual conduct, Brevik is now serving a five- to 20-year prison sentence and lost his Michigan license in 2005.

What Michigan officials apparently didn't know when they hired him was that Brevik's teaching license in Minnesota had been permanently suspended in 2001 after he allegedly invited two male minors to stay with him in a hotel room. He was principal of an elementary school in southeastern Minnesota at the time.

"I tell you what, they never go away. They just blend a little better," says Steve Janosko, a prosecutor in Ocean County, N.J., who handled the case of a former high school teacher and football coach, Nicholas J. Arminio.

Arminio surrendered his New Jersey teaching license in 1994 after two female students separately accused him of inappropriate touching. The state of Maryland didn't know that when he applied for teaching credentials and took a job at a high school in Baltimore County. He eventually resigned and lost that license, too.

Even so, until this month, he was coaching football at another Baltimore County high school in a job that does not require a teaching license. After the AP started asking questions, he was fired.

Victims also face consequences when teachers are punished.

In Pennsylvania, after news of teacher Troy Mansfield's arrest hit, girls called Kline, his 12-year-old victim, a "slut" to her face. A teacher called her a "vixen." Friends stopped talking to her. Kids no longer sat with her at lunch.

Her abuser, meanwhile, had been a popular teacher and football coach.

So, between rumors that she was pregnant or doing drugs and her own panic attacks and depression, Kline bounced between schools. At 16, she ran away to Nashville.

"I didn't have my childhood," says Kline, who's back home now, working at a grocery cash register and hoping to get her GED so she can go to nursing school. "He had me so matured at so young.

"I remember going from little baby dolls to just being an adult."

The courts dealt her a final insult. A federal judge dismissed her civil suit against the school, saying administrators had no obligation to protect her from a predatory teacher since officials were unaware of the abuse, despite what the court called widespread "unsubstantiated rumors" in the school. The family is appealing.

In Iowa, the state Supreme Court made the opposite ruling in the Bramow case, deciding she and her parents could sue the Cedar Rapids schools for failing to stop Lindsey.

Bramow, now a young mother who waits tables for a living, won a $20,000 judgment. But Lindsey was never criminally charged due to what the former county prosecutor deemed insufficient evidence.

Arthur Sensor, the former superintendent in Oelwein, Iowa, who vividly recalls pressuring Lindsey to quit on Feb. 18, 1964, regrets that he didn't do more to stop him back then.

Now, he says, he'd call the police.

"He promised me he wouldn't do it again _ that he had learned. And he was a young man, a beginning teacher, had a young wife, a young child," Sensor, now 86 years old, said during testimony at the Bramows' civil trial.

"I wanted to believe him, and I did."

___

John Parsons, special projects manager for the AP's News Research Center, contributed to this story.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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