Thursday, May 11, 2006

Rountree Teacher & Principal Charged

The News-Leader online edition reports that misdemeanor sexual misconduct and assault charges were filed today against Rountree PE instructor Mark Washam. Washam was arrested and released in mid-March by SPD. Five girls and one boy were listed as victims. Principal Carolyn Harralson was also charged with misdemeanor violation of failing to report the abuse to the Childrens' Division.

I'm sure the offended parties feel vindicated, and if Washam did exhibit some of the alleged sexual behaviors listed, his removal from contact with children is a good thing.

Pedophiles and sexual offenders are a sneaky lot, but as one who works with adolescents on a daily basis, there are still questions in my mind about this case.

One thing you won't see in this case or others like it . . . the discipline records of the children involved. A record showing repeated instances of disrespect for authority, dishonesty and aggressive behaviors, for instance, would cast this story in an entirely different light.

I'm just trying to imagine all the elements that could be in play. The hotline caller is, of course, anonymous.


At 7:56 PM, Blogger MrsThurstonHowell said...

The NewsLeader online is making me schizophrenic. I have seen three different headline stories today, one of them being the Rountree info regarding charges. Now it has disappeared.

I wonder if investigating authorities would have had access to the victims' school records to ascertain the reliability of the witnesses. Probably not. I would think it would be highly likely that if there was some question of a conspiracy or a few bad apple students with a history or an ax to grind that it would have been revealed somehow to investigators, student confidentiality nonwithstanding. I can't imagine Darrell Moore filing charges, particularly a violation of the mandated reporter law (given that history) without having a pretty airtight case.

Of course it could all be for naught if Judge Sweeney or Holden or whoever throws out the mandated reporter charge again because the wording of the law is too vague.

There's some mitigating evidence too-the principal's superior who reportedly directed her to (only?) place a note in the perp teacher's file. It would be interesting to know the details of that exchange.

It would seem that if a teacher was confronted by a student's father to leave his daughter alone, that if the teacher was innocent he would have passed that on to a superior, if for no other reason than to CYA. Same goes for the principal and her multiple encounters with students and parents.

At 9:49 AM, Blogger RSmith said...

I can imagine Moore filing charges without an airtight case - it's happened before. He's probably lost some seemingly airtight cases, too. You are absolutley right to point out that some of the language in the mandated reporter law is quite vague.

R-12 wants to bring a quick closure to this fiasco. Dr. Ridder, who has, if nothing else, raised the level of clarity coming from that office, sent an email to employees yesterday - it listed two positions:

1. Staff members who have been charged with crimes have a constitutional right to a fair trial and are considered innocent until proven guilty. The district will fully respect their rights.

2. The students and parents involved in this situation also have rights. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, "FERPA," requires, with few exceptions, that the district and its employees refrain from discussing or revealing personally identifiable information about district students. The district and its staff will fully comply with the requirements of FERPA

Note the "with few exceptions" part - can anybody shed light on that?

I've always suspected that interpretions of student confidentiality laws have evolved to protect the district more than the child, but in this case they seems to be protecting the anonymous accusers.

I said in an earlier post that I didn't think Washam would be charged unless they found some real evidence or heard from credible witnesses. Seems to me the misdemeanor charges against him could all be easily cast into doubt by a good attorney - if it ever comes to trial. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

At 3:41 PM, Blogger MrsThurstonHowell said...

Well, Dee Wampler is the attorney for the perp teacher and he has already complained about the interviewing methods used on the students. If the NL is accurate, which can be up in the air, Moore's office was unhappy because school security personnel got in there and also interviewed some kids. I realize that the policy says an internal investigation will be conducted, but interfering with a criminal investigation? Maybe that's too strong.

What do you think of the policy? I will tell you that I carried on for awhile on another blog about it with my suggestions for improvement.

FERPA sounds like a New Age soda (my daughter's contribution). Just guessing, but the exceptions are probably for the Bush spies in case they want to snoop into middle school Iraq protesters. Never know when you could spot a terrorist cell.

At 8:29 AM, Blogger Jack said...

M. Goodman,

In our recent blogservation about the mandatory reporting law, I have discovered that I was remiss in one detail. I feel it necessary to let you in on it.

I maintained that there are strict Code of Ethics for teachers and Social Workers. I beleive I was incorrect about that. In Social Work, there is a very strict Code of Ethics set up by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). The NASW has a written, CoE and the power to pull a person's certification. And the mandatory reporting is part of that CoE.

I have searched the world over but I have been unsuccessful in finding any similar Code of Ethics standards for teachers. I looked at the NEA and the MSTA and found nothing on a Code of Ethics. Both of those required persons to be members, so maybe it was just not available to the public.

At any rate, that significantly changes my argument as it is hard to hold a person to a standard that isn't in writing. The state's mandatory reporting law is a bit vague. The NAWS CoE goes beyond that and interprets that for the members, stopping ambiguity.

Not so with teachers. And so I see now where the ambiguity and confusion comes from. As a future teacher I would advocate for a CoE that helps defines reasonable.

Example: in social work, if a supervisor tells you not to report and you feel you should, you are mandated to do so. Period. And you should be protected from repercussions.

For teachers, they are to follow the district's policies, which may be to do what your principle tells you, even if your gut tells you to report. A significant difference.

So there it is. I wanted you to know where I was incorrect in my assumption of the CoE for teachers. Too bad. I think it would serve to protect us.

At 2:52 PM, Blogger RSmith said...

Thanks for the clarification, Jack. This has been the talk of the district for weeks . . . at least at my school, where both Washam and Harralson had worked in recent years.

I watched the mandated reporter video as required by R-12. Beyond that, I'm not aware of any official training for classroom teachers on this issue.

This whole affair will no doubt serve to tighten up mandated reporter policy for teachers and principals.

I was surprised to find no letters or editorials in the newspaper about this.

At 6:34 AM, Blogger Jack said...

Well the News-Leader is not always timely in their publishing of Letters to the Editor. I wrote one on May 6 (rregarind Cinco de Mayo and the horrible spew of hateful letters toward immigrants). It ran yesterday, May 14.

So give it a few weeks.

At 1:28 PM, Blogger J. Bristow said...

I just happened across this blog. I posted on 'Ozarks Angels.'

I am so glad to hear Mrsthurstonhowell say that there must be validity to the allegations since charges have been filed. Of course, the prosecutors does not win all of his cases.

What happened in this particular case, and unfortunately, many other Springfield Public School cases (hearsay), is that the district has become very adept at internal monitoring and when a case occurs where the district may be implicated the district fields the victims and conduct their own investigation. Which is what happened at Rountree. I don't have any idea if Harralson called a superior regarding the allegations, regardless, I think she should have hotlined it, or at least been honest with the parents.

So, we will see....

At 1:46 PM, Blogger J. Bristow said...

obviously, i am not a pro-blogger... the other blog i was referring to is the 'molestor III' page.

At 7:46 PM, Blogger RSmith said...

j bristow,

I think Darrell Moore might disagree with your assessment that R-12 has become very adept at handling these cases. Part of the reason this case is so screwy is because R-12 mishandled it initially. The principal notified her superior at the administrative level and was told to merely put a letter in the PE teacher's file.

I take that to mean that nobody really thought the charges were valid. Why they came to that conclusion is anybody's guess, but I suspect it was based on past behaviors by the accusing children - their credibility was suspect. Once the parents got involved, all rational dialogue flew out the window, and bizarre charges began coming from all angles.

At 11:53 AM, Blogger J. Bristow said...

true, m. goodman, i meant that spfd sps has become adept at coving up these situations.


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