Sunday, November 08, 2009

Educational examiners weigh anonymity for teachers' accusers

Battle lines are being drawn between Iowa teachers and the people who accuse them of abuse, fraud or other violations that could cost them their professional licenses. On one side are Iowans who, fearing retaliation, want to keep their names out of complaints against educators until state officials find probable cause and begin disciplinary hearings. On the other side are teachers who say they have the right to know their accusers when their jobs and reputations are on the line.

The issue has sparked a debate that has played out in state offices and schools across Iowa. "I would like to know who the person was, and not because I'm a vindictive person," said Karen Benton, a fifth-grade teacher in Guthrie Center. "We all deserve due process."

The debate will come to a head today when members of the state Board of Educational Examiners decide whether to stop forwarding copies of complaints to educators while they're under investigation. An attorney warned the examiners in August that the practice violates a 2000 state law that says all investigative files are private. The law was pushed by the state's largest teachers union, which wanted to keep complaints against teachers out of the public eye until investigations move ahead to disciplinary hearings. If the examiners change their rules, educators will receive a summary of allegations instead. The board received 117 complaints last year, records show. "The individual will know what the situation is," said George Maurer, the examiners board's director. "They just won't know who filed the complaint."

Maurer said the legal warning fueled his support for the rule change. But examiners also were advised that identifying accusers early on opens them to retaliation and could discourage reports of professional misconduct.

Joy Jager says she learned that lesson the hard way. The northeast Iowa sexual-assault counselor bought a home security system after two of her family's cars were broken into and a person she did not identify kept driving by her house. She believes the actions were payback for a complaint she made to authorities about a local teacher. Jager declined to elaborate, but Delaware County officials confirmed that there was a teacher investigation. No charges have been filed. "I became a target because I did my job as a mandatory reporter," Jager said. "Some people just don't play by the rules."

Teachers say they receive their fair share of abuse. Greg Stevens, an Okoboji High School teacher, said three male co-workers have been wrongly accused of fondling female students during his 28-year career. Stevens said it's not good enough to know the identity of an accuser once an investigation moves ahead to a disciplinary hearing. "The problem with that is, once it gets to the disciplinary format, the public knows and it's pretty hard to defend yourself in a public atmosphere, ever," he said.

Other state licensing boards already follow the 2000 law, said Bob Brammer, a spokesman for the Iowa attorney general's office. "The attempt here is to bring the Board of Educational Examiners' rules into harmony with their statutes," he said.

Jim Smith, an attorney for the Iowa State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said the law doesn't apply to the examiners board because it once was an arm of the Iowa Department of Education. The board "has always historically been considered different from the rest of the administrative agencies because of the types of situations it has and because of the way the board was originally set up," Smith said. The teachers union will fight the proposed rule change even if it passes, Smith said. Leaders could turn to the courts or lawmakers for help, he said.


British 6-year-old girl branded as racist

But it appears that publicity has brought a backdown

The parents of a six-year-old girl are outraged after their daughter was branded a racist for telling a black girl she had chocolate on her face. They fear the incident could 'haunt' her throughout her time at school.

Sharona Gower had been eating chocolate mousse and was playing with a friend when she was chased by two 11-year-old girls. When one of the older girls, who was black, said Sharona had chocolate on her face, the youngster replied: 'Well, you've got chocolate on yours.' The older girl wiped her face and said: 'I've got nothing on my face, actually.' The girl then complained to a teacher, who gave Sharona a telling off.

But when Michelle Gower, 34, went to collect her daughter from school, she was told the incident was 'racist' and that a complaint had been logged. Now Mrs Gower and her husband Nick, 45, believe the incident at St Paul's School, in Rusthall, near Tunbridge Wells, Kent, was not properly investigated and has left their daughter 'distressed and confused'. Mrs Gower said: 'The teacher told me that the girl had complained that Sharona was racist. 'The teacher said she had to record this and it had been logged as required by law. 'The teacher said they have a zero-tolerance policy for racism and bullying, which my husband and I totally agree with. 'She also said she did not know whether the other girl had chocolate on her face or not, her words were she may have done, but she did not know.'

Mr Gower, a dealer in antique collectibles, said: 'It was a bit of playground banter that has been taken as a sinister racial remark. 'This is a six-year-old who hasn't got an idea what racism is and has been labelled as a racist.' He added: 'This is political correctness gone absolutely crazy.' Mrs Gower, who lives in Rusthall, said the teacher did not explain what 'logging' the incident meant. She and her husband now fear the information may be kept on the school's database and haunt their daughter for the rest of her school career.

Mrs Gower, who also has a nine-year-old daughter, Jasmine, at the school, said she complained to the school's head, Carolyn Cohen, who took the side of the older girls. She added: 'I told her Sharona is very upset and confused about this situation and didn't fully understand why she was being reprimanded.'

Mrs Cohen last night denied that the incident had been logged on a computer database. A spokesman for St Paul's school said in a statement: 'This was a small incident, which has been blown out of all proportion. Children and parents were spoken to following an inappropriate comment. 'The matter was dealt with appropriately and the issue is closed.'


Australian State headed for dumb, immoral future, warns teacher

And such problems are far from isolated to Queensland or Australia

A BRAVE Queensland teacher has spoken out against thousands of students and their parents who couldn't care less about education. Cooper Dawson, who has taught at 12 state primary schools across the Gold Coast and Cairns, says levels of apathy, petty crime and disrespect in classrooms are now so bad that Queensland faces a dumbed-down and immoral future.

While most teachers fear going public with such opinions, Mr Dawson, 38, says breaking the silence about pathetic learning attitudes and behaviours – often triggered and passively supported by parents – might be the only way to stimulate much-needed change. "As a teacher in an industry where the burnout rate is five years, I am taken aback, astounded and shocked by the behaviour and disinclination of students to learn," he said. "We are facing a generation of single-minded children equipped with little academic knowledge (through no fault of teachers) and wavering morals determined to ask or steal from society any tangible item. "And, remarkably, they believe they deserve it.

"The social behaviour of primary school children is hard to ignore when faced with the growing epidemic of school bullying and student suspensions. "Children from negative households and with parents who are disinterested or fail to see the importance of education are contributing to a cycle where their child is entering a world without the tools to become a positive part of society."

His view, backed in private by many teachers, principals and parents across the state, supports figures released by the State Government this year showing a 46 per cent spike in suspensions for "refusal to participate" from 2006 to 2008 (with 6620 last year). Over the same period, there was a 40 per cent spike in suspensions for "property misconduct" (with 3785 last year).

Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens Association president Margaret Black said Mr Dawson's revelations and the suspension data were a reminder to parents and teachers to work together to solve the crisis. "There's nothing more powerful than a three-way (parent/teacher/child) partnership," she said.

A rapid rise in schoolyard bullying, including cyber-bullying, has also been documented this year, with an average of three students in each class bullied every day.


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