Teachers won’t be fired for backing molester

When a Michigan math teacher faced sentencing for molesting an 8th-grade student in July, six teachers urged leniency in letters to the judge. A West Branch-Rose City school board member, married to a teacher, sat with molester Neal Erickson’s wife, also a teacher in court.

“Neal made a mistake,” writes (Sally) Campbell. “He allowed a mutual friendship to develop into much more. He realized his mistake and ended it years before someone anonymously sent something to the authorities which began this legal process.”

“I am asking that Neal be given the absolute minimum sentence, considering all the circumstances surrounding this case,” writes Amy Huber Eagan.

.  . .“Neal has plead (sic) guilty for his one criminal offense but he is not a predator,” writes (Harriet) Coe. “This was an isolated incident. He understands the severity of his action and is sincere in his desire to make amends.”

One letter said the boy hadn’t been affected much by the molestation, which occurred over three years. Another said Erickson had been punished by losing his job.

Judge Michael Baumgartner, who sentenced Erickson to 15 to 30 years in prison, said he was “appalled and ashamed that the community could rally around” a child molester. “What you did was a jab in the eye with a sharp stick to every parent who trusts a teacher,” Baumgartner added.

The boy’s parents, John and Lori Janczewski, demanded that the teachers who supported their son’s molester be fired; they’ve started a recall campaign against the board member.

The board rejected firing the teachers at this week’s meeting, saying it would bring on a free-speech lawsuit. The board president read a letter signed by the six teachers:

“Dear community, criminal sexual conduct is a serious crime we do not condone. The safety of our students is our foremost concern. Our letters were never intended to cause any harm. We know the young man’s family is suffering, and empathize with their pain. It is our sincerest hope that the community will move forward for the sake of the students.”

Several parents threatened to pull their children out of WB-RC schools and send them to a charter school.

The family has been threatened for speaking out against the teachers, the victim’s father said on the Glenn Beck radio show. Their garage was fire bombed in the middle of the night and the letters “YWP” and “ITY” were spray painted on their house.  John Janczewski thinks that may stand for “you will pay” and “I told you.”

I don’t think the board can fire teachers for supporting their former colleague — and his wife, who’s still teaching in the district. But teachers minimizing child molesting is shameful and appalling.

California rethinks ‘zero tolerance’

California lawmakers are rethinking “zero-tolerance” discipline laws that require schools to suspend or expel students caught selling drugs, brandishing a knife, possessing a firearm or explosive or sexually assaulting someone, reports the Oakland Tribune.

In the 2009-10 school year, 7 percent of K-12 students, 13 percent of those with disabilities and 18 percent of black students were suspended for at least one day in California schools, according to UCLA’s Civil Rights Project.

Assemblymember V. Manuel Perez, D-Coachella, has introduced a bill to end automatic suspension, except for firearm and explosives possession. In addition, principals would not be required to report illegal activities to law enforcement authorities.

. . .  it would require a governing board’s decision to expel a student to be based not only on the act itself, but on the grounds that “other means of correction are not feasible or have repeatedly failed to bring about proper conduct.”

Another bill would remove “defiance” as grounds for out-of-school suspension, but would let schools impose in-school suspension. “Willful defiance” leads to 40 percent of school suspensions, reports AP.

School suspensions were once reserved for serious offenses including fighting and bringing weapons or drugs on campus. But these days they’re just as likely for talking back to a teacher, cursing, walking into class late or even student eye rolling.

More than 40 percent of suspensions in California are for “willful defiance,” or any behavior that disrupts class, and critics say it’s a catchall that needs to be eliminated because it’s overused for trivial offenses, disproportionately used against black and Latino boys and alienates the students who need most to stay in school.

“It’s so broad it’s not useful,” said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and chief executive of the nonprofit South Los Angeles Community Coalition. “You can’t quite define what it means, what it doesn’t mean.”

 I’ve never been a fan of zero tolerance and in-school suspension seems like a smart idea, but doesn’t this seem like a rather wide pendulum swing? It’s going to be difficult for a school board to expel a student for sexual assault or brandishing a knife.