Next Week’s Episode on "Criminal Minds"?

As a teacher, it is frustrating to read about professional colleagues of mine who use their position to bully or abuse others. Whether it’s a teacher who just enjoys having authority over others, or to make them feel inferior, it’s just wrong.

But when I read about sociopathic predators that do such awful things to children that the writers of Criminal Minds haven’t even touched yet, things like the unspeakable acts that Mark Berndt and Martin Bernard are alleged to have done to their students at Los Angeles’ Miramonte Elementary School, according to the L.A. Times, I wonder what has gone wrong with us as a species. The details are available on that link from the paper; be warned that they are extremely graphic and troubling.

And the parents at Miramonte are up in arms, as they should be. How did behavior like this go on IN THE CLASSROOM without anyone noticing? Their colleagues didn’t notice that they were demented? Their supervisors didn’t notice any red flags in their behavior? After all, it appears now that a teacher’s aide at the school also sent love letters to a student. What on earth was going on?

How should a school district respond in a situation like this?

Well, the L.A. Unified School District is replacing the entire staff at Miramonte. Teachers, counselors, administrators. All replaced by “teachers and other workers on a rehiring list” (again, from the L.A. Times). We’re talking about over 150 people. They’ll still get their pay and benefits (as they should, since they haven’t been implicated in anything), as will these new staff members who were waiting to be rehired.

How is replacing an entire staff going to improve the situation, though? Want to put administrators who should have noticed this on leave, pending the investigation? Fine by me. Want to hold them accountable for not noticing the sexual predators on their staff? Again, fine by me. Good administrators know their teachers, know their weaknesses, know their strengths.

But the first-grade teacher who got hired two years ago, who didn’t really know these two men? Should she be sent home? Should she have this cloud hanging over her? Should her personnel file have this temporary leave in it?

Should all of the other children in the school, who have bonded with their own classroom teachers, who have built relationships of trust with them, now have to learn from people who got RIFed and were sitting at home waiting for another spot to open up? A whole school full of RIF castaways? How effective will that instruction be?

It is extremely important for the investigation of Mr. Berndt and Mr. Bernard, and any others at the school who were also carrying out monstrous acts of abuse, to be thorough and complete. If they are convicted, they should be locked away from society until they are carried out of prison in a box. Their victims deserve nothing less.

But what about the other students? What about their teachers? This decision answers no questions, brings no closure. Instead, it sends the more than 1,500 students of Miramonte Elementary School into a whirlwind of doubts, questions, and potentially worthless instruction — a whirlwind that their parents may need months to help them escape.


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