How the NY DOE is Handling a Rash of Sex Abuse Cases

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How the NY DOE is Handling a Rash of Sex Abuse Cases
In light of many charges of sexual abuse between staff and students in New York schools, the Department of Education is taking steps that range from firing those involved to initiating new policies in hopes of protecting students in the future.
Amidst numerous allegations of sexual misconduct among staff members, the New York City Department of Education is taking another look at disciplinary procedures and policies regarding teachers in their schools. A recent arrest of a Brooklyn gym teacher brings the grand total of school employees facing potential criminal charges to more than a dozen during 2012 alone. Now the questions become what to do about the teachers that have been identified as possible sex offenders and how to prevent these types of problems from occurring in the future.
 

Latest Arrest May Result in Firing

The New York Daily News reports on the recent arrest of Esran Boothe, a gym teacher at Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment, who was accused of sexually abusing a 16-year-old female student. Boothe, who has worked in New York schools since 2003, was charged with third-degree sex abuse and forcible touching. Currently Boothe has been removed from the classroom, and the chancellor of NYC schools, Dennis Walcott, is looking into having the instructor fired.

“A staff member who violates the trust of our students and families does not deserve to work in our schools – period,” Walcott told the New York Daily News. “Anyone who does will be removed and we will do everything in our power to make sure they never work here again.”
 
Parental Concern Increases Amidst Allegations
 
Walcott’s statement may be a good beginning for many of the parents who are becoming increasingly concerned about the rash of sex abuse cases to hit New York schools this year. Boothe’s arrest brings the total number of teachers and staff members who have been arrested and/or removed from classrooms this year to a dozen. The first arrest occurred in February, when an aide at Public School 243 was arrested after being accused of filming child pornography inside the school.
 
Since that initial arrest, two other school staff members were arrested on sex abuse charges. After an investigation of their backgrounds, it was discovered that the two employees had previous allegations of misconduct. They were still working in schools, despite those earlier suspicions.
 
At that point, the DOE launched a review of employees who had been flagged for misconduct in the past. The efforts turned up eight more staff members who had been removed from classrooms due to suspicious behavior, yet were still drawing paychecks on the taxpayer’s dollar. Now the DOE is faced with the problem of what to do with these employees, and what policies they can put into place to prevent further allegations in the future.
 
Review Uncovers Discipline Gaps
 
The recent review conducted by DOE officials looked at all employees from the year 2000 who had exhibited some sort of inappropriate behavior. The Gotham Schools website reports that Chancellor Walcott personally looked at around 250 files on these employees to see how the issues were handled by the department. Walcott found that while many of these staff members received appropriate disciplinary measures, others were left unaddressed.
 
Walcott said some of the investigations concluded at least three years ago, so there was nothing the DOE could do to discipline those employees at this time. However, Walcott also assured students and parents that those staff members would be watched closely in the future.
 
“I am not going to tolerate any individual having any improper contact with any of our students,” Walcott said.
 
Walcott explained that one of the previous problems seen with how these cases were handled is that they were managed by independent arbitrators. In some cases, the teachers and staff members in question were given fines or suspensions instead of firings. Walcott said that he would prefer to see the chancellor make the final call on those disciplinary hearings, so that termination could be considered from his office, rather than an outside source.
 
“I would like to have the ability, in these types of cases especially, to be the final decision-maker,” Walcott stated.
 
More Changes May be on the Way
 
The Amsterdam News reports that Walcott is “disturbed” by the accusations, which is what prompted him to launch the review in the first place. While the eight employees removed from classrooms are now facing further disciplinary measures, which may include firing, this action may be just the tip of the iceberg as the DOE works to ensure the safety of students with new policies aimed at keeping sexual offenders out of classrooms permanently.
 
Walcott has announced that in upcoming weeks, the DOE will launch a new resource to flag employees who have been disciplined for misconduct. The new system will make it easier for schools hiring teachers to know if there are any potential issues to consider.

“We also give principals access to several different types of information about individuals applying for a job: whether they have been previously suspended without pay; whether they have a prior criminal history; and, for those applying to be assistant principals or principals, whether any city investigation has found that they engaged in misconduct.”
 
Social Media Becomes Concern
 
In light of the recent misconduct issues the New York DOE is facing, social media has once again come into the debate. According to CBS New York, the DOE is considering a policy to prohibit teachers from inappropriately contacting students via Facebook or Twitter. The new policy could be in place as early as next month.
 
“I think it’s important for all staff to be very conscious that they are staff and they are there on behalf of the students to educate them and provide services to them, but not to be online and Facebooking them and I think that’s something extremely important,” Walcott told CBS.

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