Suspended at 6 for ‘sexual misbehavior’

How apraxia got my son suspended from school is a horror story:  School bureaucrats became convinced that a first grader with an “invisible disability” was a victim of sexual abuse or a predator because he rocks when stressed.  

Apraxia is a movement and coordination disorder affecting about 5 percent of children, but it’s often missed or misunderstood, writes Michael Grazianao, the boy’s father and a professor of neuroscience at Princeton.

People look at apraxia sufferers and see a clumsy child who won’t try hard enough, a child who must not be very bright because he can’t keep up in math and reading, or a disobedient child who won’t stop moving in weird ways and bumping into people.

Handwriting is stressful for his son because of his disability. That struggle was affecting his reading and math. Unable to get any help from the school, the parents paid for an occupational therapist to help with coordination problems and a psychiatrist to help their son cope with classroom anxiety.

When the six-year-old began rocking to calm himself in class, his teacher decided he was masturbating. The principal, who didn’t know about the movement disorder and didn’t ask, reported the family to a state agency for possible child abuse.

Our son’s psychotherapist wrote a letter to the school to tell them about his classroom anxiety. Our son’s pediatrician also wrote a letter to the school telling them that he saw no medical evidence of any abuse. These experts asked the school to intervene with a step-by-step behavioural plan to help our son’s classroom difficulties. Under federal law, he was entitled to what’s called a 504 plan, in reference to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is meant to ensure that disabled children have full access to education, but the school refused.

After a monthlong investigation, the parents were cleared of abuse charges. The state investigator told the principal in person. Within hours, the first grader was suspended on charges of sexual assault. Playing “Zombies” after lunch, he‘d hugged a friend.

The parents took the district to court.

The principal’s written testimony included a set of classroom notes about our child to show how he willfully misbehaved. Strangely enough, the school had given us an alternative version of this document about a month earlier, which we still had. . . .  The version that was submitted to court as sworn testimony offers a noticeably different account, including several additional sentences that make our son’s conduct sound willful and sexual. It looks to me very much as though somebody in the district was willing to lie in court and falsify documents in order to damage a child.

According to the written testimony of the principal, the psychiatrist supported her claim that our son was sexually assaultive and a danger to others. . . . (The psychiatrist) wrote a letter . . . noting that he thought our child was not sexually assaultive, not a danger to others, and should never have been suspended from school.

The judge ruled for the parents, but there were no consequences for school officials who denied special education services, lied or forged evidence.

The Grazianos’ son moved to a new elementary school. The school psychologist talked to him about his stress and set up a reward system for good class work. “Within a few days, the rocking stopped.”

Graziano urges other parents to fight for their kids’ needs, but admits that he and his wife barely saved their son, despite money, leverage and “degrees in neuroscience, psychiatry, and psychology.”

Via Instapundit, who thinks responsible parents should not entrust their children to the public schools. (The Grazianos believe strongly in public schools, despite their ordeal.)

If you can’t fire a child molester …

California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that was supposed to make it easier to fire teachers charged with molesting students. It would “create new problems,” Brown said in his veto message.

The union-backed bill made it easier for abusive teachers to stall the dismissal process and force districts to settle, charges Larry Sand City Journal. A retired teacher, Sand is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network.

Mark Berndt, a Los Angeles teacher charged with 23 counts of  “lewd acts” against first-graders, was paid to resign.

Last year, district officials agreed to pay him more than $40,000 to resign in lieu of exercising his “due process rights,” which could have dragged out his termination for months or possibly years—while he continued to collect a salary and accrue pension benefits—through a series of contractually mandated hearings and appeals. This past March, the district announced that it would pay $30 million to the parents of 61 of Berndt’s former students.

In response to the Berndt case, a bill was proposed to let districts suspend teachers credibly charged with abusing students. The state teachers’ unions blocked it.

“The influence of the California Teachers Association was rarely more apparent—or more sickening, editorialized the San Francisco Chronicle. “The union showed its willingness to defend an expensive and cumbersome process for firing bad teachers at almost any cost – even if that means school districts must continue to spend exorbitant sums of time and money to dismiss teachers in cases involving sex, drugs or violence with students.”

Loving to hate the ‘bad teacher’

“Bad” teachers are hot, writes Dana Goldstein. “The bad teacher has also become an overhyped target for our national anxiety about public education.”

In Alissa Nutting’s new novel, Tampa, a Florida middle-school teacher lures two eighth-grade boys into sexual relationships.

(Celeste) Price is a coldhearted nymphomaniac who, after feeding her sexual needs, wishes for the deaths of her victims. She is based on Debra Lafave, a real-life Tampa pedophiliac teacher — and former high school classmate of Nutting’s — who avoided jail time after her lawyer argued that she was too beautiful to get locked up.

. . . Though the writing in Tampa is pedestrian in comparison with Nabokov’s Lolita, the great classic on which it is based, it certainly represents a gutsy attempt by a young, female author to embody a wholly unsympathetic female narrator and probe the question of whether society lets women essentially get away with crimes for which men are excoriated.

Sexually abusive teachers exist, but they’re very rare, Goldstein points out.

Price, who’s depicted as a lousy teacher, has one ally, “an obese, ‘joyless’ woman who seems to hate children and eventually loses her job after cursing out students and throwing a chair,” Goldstein observes. Although most of the action takes place in a school, Tampa portrays no competent teachers.

The Cameron Diaz movie, Bad Teacher, will become a TV series about a “former trophy wife who masquerades as a teacher” to find a new sugar daddy.  (Who looks for a wealthy husband in a school?)  It’s a “vote of no confidence” in teachers, writes Lisa Suhay on Christian Science Monitor.

The premise, which plays to every possible negative stereotype of educators and women, may make the grade with network executives, but it will set up middle- and high-school teachers for failure in the eyes of students who watch the show.

The movie teachers that “being a narcissistic, sadistic, incompetent teacher is cool” and “bullying is funny,” writes Suhay. Also, “competent teachers are socially inept, overweight, clueless, and timid.”

A sequel to the movie, Bad Teacher 2, is in the works.

Principal guilty for not reporting teachers’ abuse

Craig Chandler, 35, is awaiting trial on charges of committing lewd and lascivious acts on five students at a San Jose elementary school where he taught second grade. His semen was found on a classroom chair.

Monday, a jury convicted the principal of failing to report suspected child abuse, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Principal Lyn Vijayendran listened to a second-grade girl’s story: The teacher had called her into an empty classroom, blindfolded her, told her to lie on the floor and open her legs, touched her feet with something that felt like a tongue, inserted something gooey in her mouth and then wiggled her head around until she tasted a salty liquid.

Instead of calling police, the principal called a district personnel administrator, who suggested questioning the teacher. Chandler said he was preparing for a “Helen Keller” lesson. Vijayendran believed him. The parent accepted the explanation.

Three months later, a parent told police Chandler had molested another second grader in the same fashion.

Juror Kathy Eriksen called the case “tragic,” but said the verdict was “absolutely necessary” to ensure educators, coaches and other mandated reporters don’t shirk their obligation.

. . . Juror Susan LaGaffa said the incident was obviously sexual and the teacher’s explanation ludicrous.

“I think she didn’t want this ugly thing to be true,” LaGaffa said. “But when you have responsibility for hundreds of children, you can’t afford to drop the ball.”

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Deborah Ryan immediately sentenced Vijayendran on the misdemeanor charge, giving her two years of probation and 100 hours of community service. The former principal, now working in the district office, can meet her service hours by training educators to comply with California’s mandated-reporter law.

The human resources director wasn’t charged because she’s not a mandatory reporter.

Union blocks bill on firing ‘predator’ teachers

Awaiting trial for sexual abusing fifth-grade students, a Los Angeles teacher was paid $40,000 to take early retirement. A bill to make it easier and faster to fire teachers for crimes involving sex, drugs or violence stalled after the teachers’ union came out against it. Assembly Democrats receiving heavy teachers’ union contributions abstained in a committee vote, the equivalent of  “no” without the accountability, reports Anderson Cooper.

Here’s the Los Angeles Times on teachers’ union clout in California.

Who decides who’s a ‘predator’ teacher?

“Predator teachers” don’t belong in the classroom, writes Arthur Goldstein in SchoolBook. But who decides who’s a predator?

Sensational headlines blare that teacher unions “go to bat” for sexual predators, he writes.

. . . I don’t accept that someone is a sexual predator simply because Michael Bloomberg, Dennis Walcott,  Campbell Brown or some Astroturf group like StudentsFirstNY says so.

Goldstein knows a “trumped up” case against a teacher who’s been dragged through the tabloids. He’s dubious about changing the law to let the chancellor fire teachers despite the rulings of independent arbitrators.

Not every teacher accused of impropriety is guilty.

Fatherless boys, easy prey

Perhaps the saddest testimony in Jerry Sandusky’s trial came when Victim 6, a fatherless boy like all the other victims, said he’d sent a Father’s Day message to his molester three years ago.

The Penn State coach used his charity to find boys who craved a father figure. He showered them with attention and gifts. Then he showered with them.

Victim 3 explained why he didn’t complain about the sexual abuse.

“He made me feel like I was part of something, part of a family, giving me things that I didn’t have before.”

When he was placed in a foster home, he was enraged that Sandusky never tried to contact him.

Sandusky is utterly vile. But let’s not forget the men who abandoned these boys, making them easy prey for a pedophile.

Teens fight self-abuse charges

Threatened with child molesting charges for a bra-clad slumber-party photo of herself that showed up on a cellphone, a high school cheerleader refused to cop a plea. Along with two other girls, she’s filed suit against the overzealous prosecutor.

Marissa Miller and two other Tunkhannock, Pa., high school students say a prosecutor retaliated when they rejected his deal in a case over cellphone photos he called “provocative.”

. . . (The photo) showed Marissa and a friend from the waist up. Both were wearing bras.

(Prosecutor) Skumanick said he considered the photo “provocative” enough to tell Marissa and the friend, Grace Kelly, that if they did not attend a 10-hour class dealing with pornography and sexual violence, he was considering filing a charge of sexual abuse of a minor against both girls. If convicted, they could serve time in prison and would probably have to register as sex offenders.

Seventeen other students took the deal.

Criminalizing adolescent folly is nuts. Is there no sexual violence, abuse of minors or kiddie porn in Tunkhannock?

Meanwhile, in Britain, an 18-year-old boy painted an Iron Age fertility symbol with a 60-foot phallus on the new roof of his parents £1million house, reports the Daily Mail. He was hoping it would show up on Google Earth. No prosecution is planned. Just a new paint job.

Sexual abuser wants to teach again

Kimberly Horenstein taught deaf children for 21 years in Portland, Oregon, before she was exposed for sexually abusing two girls, 11 and 13, on a swim team she’d coached at the start of her career. She wasn’t prosecuted because the statute of limitations had run out, but she lost her teaching license. Now she wants to teach again — and she may get the chance, reports the Oregonian.

Horenstein, now 50, admitted the sexual abuse in 2005. One of her victims came forward after seeing a newspaper column about Horenstein and her partner’s adoption of two boys.

In petitioning for her license back, Horenstein refers to the abuse, which spanned years of sex with two children, as “the incident.”

“I acknowledge the fact that much earlier in my life I made some poor choices,” Horenstein wrote the state board. “I have consistently maintained good boundaries with my students.”

“The incident” doesn’t seem like an adequate explanation for using her position of authority to exploit two little girls over a three-year period.  One of the victims, the mother of two children attending Portland schools, thinks Horenstein is not worthy of trust.