Sex abuse crimes rock public schools
CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 3/22/2012, 1:44 p.m.
A slew of teacher-student sex abuse crimes in public schools in recent months have parents looking for answers and questioning the safety of their children.
The most recent case involves a gym teacher in Brooklyn who is accused of touching a 16-year-old student.
The Department of Education reported that Esran Booth, 49, touched the student on her buttocks while working at Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment in Prospect Heights earlier this month.
Booth was arrested and is now the eighth employee in the city's public schools system accused of sexual misconduct since February. The DOE is looking to fire teachers and teachers' aides who have continued to work even after being found guilty.
Reports indicate that Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott is "disturbed" by the alleged acts, ordering a review of employees still working around children who had committed sex crimes.
The review looked at all workers in the system who had committed inappropriate acts against students since 2000. Looking at 250 cases, Walcott confirmed that several of the cases had been handled badly. The review resulted in the removal of eight public school employees.
"Currently, we do not allow schools to rehire staff members who have been fired from another school after a disciplinary hearing," Walcott wrote in a letter to DOE employees.
"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."
Walcott also announced in the letter that in the coming weeks, the DOE will launch a new resource to flag any employee who has been disciplined for misconduct. The enhanced tracking system will help schools make better hiring decisions and go a long way toward protecting students.
The DOE has also created the Disciplinary Support Unit to coordinate follow-up with schools, ensuring that appropriate action is taken when investigators find that an employee has engaged in bad behavior.
"I want to be very clear: The vast majority of our employees are hardworking, dedicated individuals who take on the most important job in our society--educating our children--and put the well-being of students first. I am truly grateful for their service and professionalism, and I pledge never to rush to judgment when there is an allegation of inappropriate misconduct," Walcott added.
In a response, United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Michael Mulgrew said that the DOE did not fire teachers immediately after they were found guilty of committing sex crimes.
"If the DOE had properly investigated these cases and, where appropriate, brought charges, the chancellor wouldn't be in damage control mode right now," Mulgrew said. "The UFT supports a zero tolerance policy for sexual misconduct and also the rights of anyone so accused to a fast and fair investigation and hearing."