Sunday, April 30, 2006

Ozarks Messenger, Rountree Molestation III

Sunday Thread

Reading the Sunday News-Leader took all of eight minutes this morning. My god, you'd think we have roving bands of pit bulls on the streets tearing at the flesh of terrorized citizens. Jeezus, give the dog story a rest, please.

Maybe a new editorial page editor will help. Tony Messenger wrote his first Springfield editorial today, the obligatory glad-to-be-here-in-the-Ozarks-where-a-handshake-still-means-something-and-did-I-mention-my-love-of-gooseberry-pie routine. Your basic load of shit. Now that's out of the way, we can expect Messenger to actually say something next week. Welcome to the Bible Belt. You'll find out soon enough what it means, Tony, don't worry.

His new blog, Ozarks Messenger, just started up last week and should be an interesting addition to the local blog scene.

Rountree Alleged Molestation - Preponderance of Hearsay

Springfield R-12, seeking some kind of closure to this ugly mess, suspended the Rountree principal last week. Carolyn Harralson apparently failed to follow her mandated reporter responsibilities and is likely to face charges to that effect as soon as the prosecutor's office sorts through the DSS report.

What an odd case - the way this has played out reveals quite clearly how easily an individual's career and reputation can be smeared beyond salvaging even if there is virtually no proof of any misdeed - and as of this day, no charges filed. You gotta think there's a big lawsuit or hefty settlement brewing somewhere.

I'm also wondering if the caseworker for the Rountree episode also handled the Dominic James case (boy killed while in foster care). Even if it's not the same individual, I get the feeling the folks at DSS might be over-compensating just a bit on the this one.

One thing is certain. An experienced teacher and popular elementary principal have probably seen their careers in education come to an abrupt end due to allegations based on hearsay and notes passed on by fifth-graders. Yet the DSS claims there exists a "preponderance of evidence" that sexual abuse occurred at Rountree and that the principal neglected to respond to reports as required by law.

By the way, the principal reportedly contacted her supervisor for guidance on the matter and was told to file a report in the P.E. teacher's personnel file. So, is the administrator also going to be charged with mandated reporter violations? Or is the principal going to bear the entire responsibility for this apparent misstep?

And who leaked the descriptions of the alleged molestations to the News-Leader? None other than a parent trying to publicly justify the hotline call that set this sordid affair into motion. They asked to remain anonymous for fear of repurcussions. Repercussions? Like having your reputation destroyed and losing one's job? The N-L, of course, was all too eager to lay it all out with a front page headline - and yet, it bears repreating, neither the teacher nor the principal have been formally charged with anything. Very strange that the DSS can wield such power - and very irresponsible journalism on the part of the N-L, if you ask me.

The County Prosecutor's office has been quiet on the matter. Prosecutor Darrell Moore did little to hide his disapproval of the way R-12 and the Springfield Police handled the case from the start - with the quick arrest/release of the suspect and the closed community meeting. Moore is likely to charge the principal (and administrator?) fairly soon, but I seriously doubt the P. E. teacher will ever face formal molestation charges - unless somebody digs up some real evidence.

19 Comments:

At 2:11 AM, Blogger Citizenkan said...

This note is from the 5th grade girls," pleaded a student to Principal Carolyn Harralson on Feb. 1. "Almost all of us have been touched inappropriately by (a teacher)." The teacher has "touched us on our butts, our (excuse my language) boob, wrapping his arms around us and grabbing our legs inappropriately. PLEASE TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY. From the 5th grade girls."

Please tell me that this is not a direct quote from a 5th grader. I remember my kids and their friends at that age.

I seriously doubt that a 5th grader uses the word "inappropriately" much less knows how to spell it. And "PLEASE TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY" sounds like an adult expression. A 5th grader would say "THIS IS TRUE!" or "WE ARE NOT LYING!" And commas and parenthesis used better than my college-aged daughter? (Yikes!) If this note was quoted exactly by the NL, then I am immediately skeptical.

I'm sure DSS feels snake-bit by the Dominic James case. And the principal will probably get the same treatment as Leslie Brown, the ER nurse who checked Dominic when he came into the hospital. Tortured and hung out to dry.

The NL should be ashamed.

 
At 6:45 AM, Blogger RSmith said...

At my school we had a group of girls allege that a substitute teacher was touching them inappropriately. They didn't tell me about it, mercifully, but the guy was sent off never to return. A month later the same girls were spreading rumors that one of their classmates was a lesbian. Parents got involved.

Over the summer, at cheerleader camp, authorities were called to the hotel in the wee hours of the morning because a group of girls claimed that someone had broken into their room and stolen all their money. After talking it out, they figured out they had spent it all on magazines and food.

I'm not saying every allegation is false, but I am saying that kids this age are all too willing to blow things way out of proportion for the sake of high drama.

 
At 8:03 AM, Blogger Jack said...

Citizenkan: You are right to be suspicious of a note (sopposedly written by a fifth grader which is written using adult language.

M.Goodman: It is very typical for elementary students to misunderstand and misreport things that happen. No doubt about that.

You are wrong to be critical of ANYONE who hotlines an alleged case of abuse against a child. Some professions have a strict Code of Ethics. Medical professionals, Social Workers and Teachers are among those groups.

If anyone in these fields suspects abuse, hears a report of abuse, they are mandated (by law and by Code of Ethics) to report it. But reporting to a supervisor does not qualify and everyone knows that. Reporting involves a hotline to police or to the Division of Social Services. Period. If your supervisor asks you not to report, then he or she is in direct violation of the law and the Code of Ethics. The subordinate is still required to report the abuse.

There is no such thing as "Justification." There is no choice in reporting. "Should I, or shouldn't I?" does not factor into the equation. It is not up to the teacher, social worker or medical professional to decide if the allegation warrants reporting. Never, ever, ever. It is the person's responsibility to report and it is up the investigators to substantiate or unsubstantiate the allegations. Period.

So too often, we want to place the responsibility of substantiation on the reporter. That person is not qualified or trained to make such determinations. Both the principal and her supervisor should be seriously reprimanded for NOT following the law.

Greene County is has one of the highest (if not the highest) cases of sexual abuse in the State! It is astounding the number of cases of abuse and neglect.

As for the News-Leader, they should cover the case. Sexual abuse is a problem in Greene County and they have an obligation to cover it. We should be critical of any media who do not "Take It Seriously."

 
At 9:31 AM, Blogger Citizenkan said...

fat jack,

How about the NL have the decency to wait until charges are filed before printing all the salacious details? Publishing that note is nothing more than a newspaper tease to draw in readership. I honestly had not read much about this story before, because I hadn't yet seen any charges come down the pike. Until then, the NL is only fanning the flames of a group of people whose emotions have already been elevated high enough. That would be all the 5th and 6th graders who talk among themselves and who listen to their nervous parents.

And SHAME on the parent who provided that note to the press! If the parent's child is actually part of this "group" then I smell a lawsuit. If not, then I see the actions of a flame thrower.

 
At 10:08 AM, Blogger Jack said...

Citizenkan:
I can't agree more. The News-Leader should have found that note to be suspect and refrained from publishing it until more could be gathered. But the media's rush to scoopy usually out weighs good ethical reporting.

I am glad that everyone is refraining from publishing the teacher's name until he is charged. Of course, I hope that if they charge him, they make sure he was actually at the scene of the crime before they indict (unlike the Duke case.)

 
At 10:52 PM, Blogger RSmith said...

Fat Jack,
You obviously have some experience in this area - and I agree that claims of abuse should be taken seriously. Time will tell if the Rountree report was justified. I understand what you say about letting DSS determine the validity of a claim. But I have to disagree that teachers and other professionals working with children should automatically call in every single claim - there has to be some kind of discretionary judgement made at that level.

In the absence of any physical evidence of abuse, are we to automatically assume that every claim of abuse is valid and worthy of further investigation by the experts at DSS until proven otherwise? Are we to always err on the side of the accuser and cavalierly discard the careers of proven professionals, even if the accuser's credibility and motives are suspect and there is no physical evidence?

Teachers and principals work with children on a daily basis over the course of several years in some cases. I disagree that teachers, principals, counselors - the people who work with these children every day should ignore their past experiences with individual children - their behaviors, their disciplinary problems, family situations - and mindlessly refer everything to the almighty DSS for final judgement.

Honestly, DSS would have to install a permanent phone bank and drive up window to handle the work load from middle schools alone. We would be spending as much on investigations and prosecutions as we would on education.

 
At 6:47 AM, Blogger Jack said...

Goodman: Are you suggesting that teachers are receiving reports of sexual abuse so often, that there is no way that DSS could really keep up with that work load? If so, then you have a problem at your school.

How many trusted professionals (priests, teachers etc) are found to be having sexual relations with the children in their care? We see it happening on the news all the time (referring to cases with physical proof.)

And just how is a teacher supposed to discover physical proof of sexual misconduct? Are you going to look under each girls' skirt and inspect her chest for signs of abuse?

When a teacher makes a hotline, they are fully entitled to say to the DSS worker: "I find this claim to be suspect because ... ." There is nothing that says the reporter cannot give his or her views. But if a child says a "so and so is fondling me" then to not act is to play right into the hands of the perpetrators. You see, perps are attracted to jobs that give access to children, elderly or persons with disabilties.

Search your history, good blogger, and you will remember that most perps and pedophiles are extrememly well liked, charismatic, and trustworthy. In fact, pedophiles depend on those personality traits to manipulate those around them into NOT TELLING. That's the scam.

That is why it is SO important for those in professional fields to not make determinations of guilty or innocence. Just report.

Most reports are investigated and don't reach the News-Leader. In this case, you have a large mob of folks who are angry and leaked into. Mostly, they are mad that no one reported. For that, they should be mad.

So here are some stats that I have gotten from the Department of Mental Heatlh:

79% of abuse of people with disabilities is from a caregiver.

Only 3% ever go to jail. (you will find this stat to be in line with sex abuse of children. Go and ask the child advocacy center. It's shameful.)

You, as the reporter, never assume guilt or innocence. You simply report. Most of the time nothing will come of it.

How many children have come up to you, privately, and stated, that so-and-so is touching me "down there?"

By the way, public chools are notorious for keeping a lid on teacher-predators (with proof) and just moving them on to work in another school.

Think of it like this. You are an Army grunt at Abu Grabe (sp). You see them doing horrific things to people. (Not defacing a Koran, but raping or sodomizing them). Culture says do it. Supervisor says its okay and part of war. The pressure can be overwhelming. Those doing wrong depend on the waivering of others to keep up status quo. That's how cultures of abuse, where no one says anything, goes on.

Great topic Goodman and Citizenkan. Thanks for the chance to rant back and forth.

 
At 8:08 PM, Blogger RSmith said...

No, we don't have a big problem at our school - but if the Rountree experience is an example, it sounds as though we would be reporting damn near everything for fear of prosecution.

My point was that we hear so much loose talk - kids at this age, at least in our culture, are very sexually oriented, seemingly at an earlier age with each generation - and very dramatic.

And on the other side of the issue . . . What if a 13-year-old girl approaches me and gives me a hug in the hallway, as happens frequently to male teachers. Should we recoil in fear? What if she gets so angry at me later over a disciplinary matter that she accuses me of touching her (pick a body part) and calls DSS.

I'm just a little worried now that an investigation by DSS wouldn't yield a fair result. Their zeal for protecting the child seems to have superceded any regard for protecting the wrongly accused. That's what I suspect may have happened in the Rountree fiasco.

Thanks for the interesting discussion Citizenkan and Jack.

 
At 11:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The NL online is messed up at the moment, or I would check-but it seems the name of the DSS investigator mentioned was the same name in the Dominic case (remember there were a couple of investigations). I am concerned whether DSS has their ducks in a row (personally, I don't think as a whole that they have a lot of smarts) and all their T's crossed in this investigation-as in airtight- when they say preponderance-which should mean multiple sources with info to corroborate (sp?) those sources. No hearsay. You would think if DSS conducted the investigation with the police it would add to the validity-but if Moore isn't happy with how the police handled it, then I don't know what to think.

By the way, young students hear the word "inappropriate" from the gitgo during sessions with DARE officers, health instructors, nurses etc.

In regards to the discussion about the teachers' dilemma in reporting abuse- do schools have substantial abuse prevention policies and detailed procedures in place with ongoing training and updating and written accountability? with on-going (not cursory) training so that staff would have sound info about what it means "to have cause to believe" that abuse occured? do staff feel that they can contact their supervisors for help? Do teachers feel they are supported by their supervisors in this area? If answers are NO to these questions, then we have a problem.

I viewed the "abuse" training film as mentioned in a NL article, and the film in itself is not sufficient.

It is unfortunate that the abuse reporting law is not stated in clearer terms. I feel for Darrell Moore. In regards to the Leslie Brown case-there was more to that than what the general public knew. From all the info I was privy to-I believe she messed up and should have reported. However, she was initially nailed because she admitted to some things, whereas the physicians involved admitted to nothing, but they had to have seen everything that Brown saw. Often it is the physician who instructs a nurse to make a hotline call. I don't know the background on why Moore eventually dropped the charges.

I agree with the assessment of the NL coverage-tabloid journalism comes to mind.

By the by-I'm paintedpine.

 
At 6:32 AM, Blogger Jack said...

Goodman: Being a male is a difficult thing, especially when working with children. When is a hug, just a hug. I, too, struggle with that dilemma. It is appropriate for children to receive or initiate a hug from a trusted teacher. Some children receive no support or encouragement except from their caring teacher. And yet, a child could very well become upset and falsely accuse. It is a terrible thing that all teachers must be concerned with.

I don't think I know the answer, Goodman. It is a by-product of our blame-laying, sue-happy culture.

I would love to know what other teachers think and how they handle it. I am not a teacher yet, as I am going back to school for my Masters. I work with people who have disabilities. (Thus I am a mandated reporter and all of that.)

Anon: I do not have confidence in our investigation abilities of DSS. Knee-jerk reactions are the systemic response by state government in order to garner public attonement. Dominique James case is butchered, so over-aggression is done in other cases. No wonder Goodman worries. If the school systems (all of them) spent time supporting teachers and giving them appropriate training, it would be different.

And when teachers go to the principal to ask about a possible case of abuse and are always told NOT to report it, that is a problem. Too often the teachers are not supported by anyone out of CYA.

And shit always rolls downhill to the lowest common denominator: in this case, it would be the hard working and dedicated teachers.

On the other hand, there are some teachers who are also predators.

 
At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It took you 8 minutes to read the Sunday paper? That's pretty liesurly I'd say. Remember their old slogan, "Take a minute, see what's in it!" At least somebody on Boonville had the sense to scuttle that little truism.

Chewbacca

 
At 6:08 PM, Blogger RSmith said...

This Sunday was about six and a half minutes.

 
At 1:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My, my, my... in skimming these blogs it's obvious none of you have the facts. I am very close to this case, I have a child at Rountree, who, by the way, uses "inappropriate" and many other "adult" words. I also know the victims in this case, and I am a mandated reporter. If there is EVER suspicion of abuse, or neglect mandated reporters are to hotline the suspicion. Period. It's quite simple, actually.

I'm signing this anonymously, b/c I didn't sign up for an accout - I am Jennifer Bristow and will create an account later.

This case is so disturbing to me b/c I have spent years working with adults who were perpetrated as children and the damage is undescribable. As far as the News-leader reporting, I say, hurrah. No one else was reporting the truth. There were quotes from Wampler and misinformed/uninformed parents, nothing about the kids. The victims in this case are not a 'group' or problem kids or anything else you accuse them of. How dare you! I find it so sad that the coach and principle are supported so blindly in this case. God forbid anything like this ever happen to your children.

By the way, the parenthesis were not used by the students in their plea to the principle. Use your heads people!!! Look up some writing tips, that's ENG 101! The quotes are taken directly from the letter. (My spelling may be off some, but I'm not criticizing a publication)

If you truly remember when you were in 5th grade then you remember that you would not withstand the scrutiny of interview after interview with school officials, police, DSS, prosecuters.... Investigators in these areas are trained extensively in interviewing techniques. If the girls deviated or changed their stories or if details were different between victims, the investigators would have suspected mistruths. Obviously, this did NOT happen. Charges have been filed. The allegations were taken seriously (finally) and yet people are still in doubt of ten and eleven year old kids! No wonder the charges are only misdemeanors - with a jury pool out there full of people that write editorials and blogs, the prosecuting attorney will have their work cut out for them. This is why sexual abusers are able to perpetrate generations of kids! Adults don't want to admit reality so they choose to believe the kids are making it up or exaggerating or whatever so the adult can sleep at night. Well, sleep tight folks. I believe the girls and I am very grateful to them for having to courage to follow through. Abuse escalates and I believe these girls prevented this man from escalating to penetration/rape. If I'm wrong, then I'll lose much sleep.

 
At 7:32 PM, Blogger RSmith said...

I'm sorry that you feel such outrage, but I still believe that this case has been a big misrepresentation. My daughter went to Rountree for six years. I worked with both the teacher and the principal in question for many years, and I currently work with all kinds of children on a daily basis. I love them dearly, which is why teaching has been such a rewarding profession to me.

Casting myself, and others who find the Rountree case strangely out-of-balance, as insensitive adults who arbitrarily question any child's claim of abuse is simply a misrepresentation on your part.

When and if this case goes to court, I hope we will find out the real truth. I don't claim to know it all by any means.

My insights into this case are different than your's. Two individuals have lost their careers due to anonymous accusations of children who may or may not have been manipulated by their parents and over-zealous social workers. That's my take - I may be proven wrong.

 
At 10:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

M Goodman,
My insights, of which I have some, and opinions are congruent with yours.

In regards to mandatory reporter, I think that the readers and public need to remember that, "accusation" is not a synonym of "reasonable cause". For example and hypothetically, you may accuse me to the school nurse of being fat, because you thought you overheard me telling someone you were ugly. But after she looks at me and weighs me, she judges that I'm within the acceptable guidelines for my sex, height and age. Therefore, she believes that I do not need to participate in the mandatory wellness program to promote healthier lifesyles for teachers who are overweight. She followed up on the accusation, however based on her scales and guidelines determined that your accusation was not justified. Along comes a zealous fitness trainer with her body fat calipers. You report me to her. She measures and determines that my body fat is too high, even though she isn't medically trained. Consequently, she turns me in to the wellness program director, who in turn, nails the nurse for not turning me in, as one of those teachers being physically not within guidelines. Further testing will be required to determine whether the nurse was right or the physical trainer. Personally, I feel, and hope, it was the nurse.

BTW, I just discovered your blog about a week ago and enjoy your commentaries and writing style.

 
At 10:19 PM, Blogger RSmith said...

I am so glad you discovered the blog - enjoyed the post - you know I don't think you're fat at all.

 
At 10:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, and I don't think and didn't say you are ugly.

 
At 12:51 PM, Blogger J. Bristow said...

i'm curious, m. goodman, do you work with children who have suffered from abuse or neglect?

the accusations were not annonymous, their names are not released b/c they are minors, something i would assume, you would understand and support since you work with children and obviously care deeply for them.

my experience has given me insight into harsh realities, one of which is, we never truly know people. pedophiles, rapists, murderers... all have mothers, fathers, siblings, some have wives and children, these family members are shocked to find out their loved one has committed a heinous crime, i'm assuming you are not related to harralson or washam. my point is that you said you've worked with the principle and coach, carolyn has been at rountree for three years and this was coach's first year there, my guess is you didn't know these individuals well. working with someone, even living with them, doesn't give us insight into all aspects of their personalities. i've worked with some very violent, dangerous men, who when talking to and working with them they were very personable and professional. strange things happen every day. people who are seen as loving, caring, supportive fathers, are actually raping their daughters behind closed doors. upstanding citizens in the community are beating their kids. and on and on... this is a bleak representation, but it is a reality.

"Casting myself, and others who find the Rountree case strangely out-of-balance, as insensitive adults who arbitrarily question any child's claim of abuse is simply a misrepresentation on your part." i don't feel that i have misrepresented anyone. you find this case 'out of balance.' why? i never called you insensitive, if you feel you were cast in that light that is your interpretation. i really do not understand how you can say that you work with children daily and love them deeply, but refuse to objectibely consider the circumstances of this case. i believe from your comments you do not know the circumstances of this case. where are you getting your facts? are you simply making suppositions? when i speak i do so as someone who has spoken to the parents of the victims, i know the children, i have read the dss report, i know the timeline, and have worked with carolyn for the last three years. i am looking at facts and the facts that i know state that if this case had been handled appropriately from the beginning it would not be where it is today. it would not be all over the news. handling it properly would not have exonerated the coach, but carolyn certainly would not be in the position she is now.

my outrage stems from having heard several adults talk of "Two individuals have lost their careers due to anonymous accusations of children who may or may not have been manipulated by their parents and over-zealous social workers." again the names are kept confidential b/c they are minors. why would parents manipulate the children in this case? i know these parents. it doesn't make any sense. and as far as overzealous social workers, maybe if more people were a little more vigilant our children would not be victimzed as often as they are.

our society makes convicting offenses against children very difficult. children who are victimized are not usually victimized once it happens over and over for years. most often these children try to tell someone, but they are not believed, which leaves the offender free to reoffend. many sexual offenders offend for years, sometimes decades before being caught, if ever being caught. yes, two careers are being destroyed, but don't forget the five (likely more) lives that will be affected forever.

 
At 9:42 AM, Blogger RSmith said...

J. Bristow,

Yes, I do work with children who suffer from real abuse and neglect - probably more than I'll ever know. I understand your passion for keeping children safe from pedophiles. Nobody disagrees with you on that issue. Your point is well taken that pedophiles are devious, sneaky people, which is one big reason I don't believe Washam's actions were overtly sexual in nature.

You know the school. The Rountree gymnasium is also the school cafeteria. Cooks, custodians, teachers, delivery people, parents are constantly walking through the area. Anyone entering Rountree from the main parking lot entrance has a clear, unobstructed view into the gymnasium/cafeteria all day long. I can't recall any molestation cases where the perpetrator chose to attack his victims in front of dozens of people in an open gym/cafeteria.

Is this the kind of place for a lurking pedophile to claim his victims? It flies in the face of any M.O. I've ever heard. Pedophiles are relatives, strangers in vans with puppies, strange neighbors, step-parents, people who seek opportunities to be alone with their victims.

Washam may be a big goof who is frustrated in his job, and he may have offended some people, but as one who has taught literally hundreds of his former PE students without one comment being raised (positive or negative), I have serious doubts that he suddenly became the serial molester you so eagerly portray him to be.

And what a coincidence that the one dubious complaint coming from Hickory just happened to be the cousin of one of the Rountree group of accusers.

I stick to my belief that this was a situation where a teacher may have pushed, yelled, embarrassed, cornered and otherwise angered some students - who complained to their parents. Then, I honestly believe, two or three groups of angry parents got together and made sure the issue didn't die a natural death.

And please . . . all this talk of rapists and murderers adds nothing to this discussion. No one was raped or murdered. We're talking about six misdemeanor charges - or is it down to five - from a prosecutor with a reputation for aggressive action in child abuse cases.

 

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