The number of teacher/pupil sexual misconduct incidents is staggering. The United States Department of Education commissioned a study that found that nearly 10% of all students in the United States are likely to become victims of teacher/pupil sexual misconduct at some time during their enrollement in school. The problem is pervasive and widely under reported by students due to shame, fear and feelings of guilt. The problem is magnified when a school district learns of a teacher’s sexual misconduct and, instead of firing the teacher, transfers him or her to another school.
This is what is reported by the Los Angeles Times to have recently happened in Los Angeles. According to the Times, Los Angeles Unified School District officials knew that Assistant Principal Steve Thomas Rooney has been accused of sexual misconduct with a student. Rooney had also been arrested for pointing a gun at a student’s father. Instead of placing him on leave until the matter was thoroughly investigated, district officials transferred him to another school, where, tragically, he again molested two students.
I understand that Rooney, like any citizen, has rights and is presumed innocent. But nothing in the Constitution would have prevented the school district from placing Rooney on leave until the matter was investigated. Place him on paid leave if you like, but, surely we should error on the side of caution when it comes to protecting our children from pedophiles.
I have been involved in several civil lawsuits against school districts based on educator sexual misconduct. The law in California makes it very difficult to prevail against a school district. Getting a judgment against the offender is often easy, but since he or she is usually in jail collection of a judgment is nearly impossible. To fairly compensate the injured child it is critical that liability against the school district be investigated in detail.
In a case such as the Rooney matter, the school district would have had a duty to take reasonable steps to protect it’s students. It would appear from the reports that the district failed miserably.