News stories about years of alleged shocking child abuse by two teachers at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles provide very sad examples of how the procedures in place can fail to protect kids. As the school community goes through great trauma in trying to re-establish trust with the parents and to prevent harm to any more students, we are seeking to understand what might have helped to make a difference.
From different news reports, it looks as if parents, school staff, and children all lacked skills that might have stopped this abusive behavior much sooner.
- One of the teachers accused played “special games” including blindfolding the children behind a locked classroom door during the school day.
- Two former students say they reported behavior that looked like masterbation more than a decade ago by the same teacher to the school counselor and were told not to “make up stories.”
- Another former student says that her teacher tried to touch her genitals, but she pushed his hand away – one quick action that probably protected her from being molested and leaves us wishing that all the children had known to do the same thing!
- After seeing an Oprah show about inappropriate touching, this girl then told her mother, who seems to have reported this problem in 1993 but it was not pursued by police due to a lack of sufficient evidence.
- The charm and charisma of a least one of the teachers made everything he did seem harmless.
- Trusting parents taught their kids to respect their teachers and do what they were told.
- In 2008, parents complained to their principal about two photos taken by the second grade teacher of their daughter that they found strange. They say the principal dismissed their concerns, saying this was probably part of a class project. Police now suspect that this girl might have been inappropriately touched by the other teacher who has been accused after she ended up in his classroom.
We know that school authorities have to follow procedures to ensure fair treatment of their teachers. We know they are now going through great effort to determine what happened and what might have been done differently to protect their students. Our goal is not to blame for the past but to learn for the future.
What if the principals had regularly visited classrooms at random times and parents had occasionally dropped by their child’s classrooms unexpectedly – and immediately seen a locked door and blindfolding children as big red flags?
What if the principal had known to take the parent’s concerns in 2008 seriously about “strange photos” and started to monitor the situation much sooner?
What if the school counselor in 1993 had reported the claims made by the girls instead of telling them not to make up stories? What if the girls had known that, if one grownup doesn’t listen, to keep on telling different adults about anyone’s behavior that makes them uncomfortable until someone takes them seriously?
What if all the parents in this school had known how to ask their children about their school day in a joyful way, not a fearful one – and how both to support teachers AND to question any suspicious behavior?
What if the parents who did speak up about their concerns had had support in persisting with taking action instead of not knowing what else to do?
What if the allegations of potential abuse and suspicious behavior had been investigated carefully? What if, even if there was not enough evidence for a conviction in court, these teachers had been closely monitored and dismissed if there was any sign of suspicious behavior?
Did ANY of the other teachers notice anything? What if they had known to report concerns about any suspicious behavior by a colleague?
What if all the children had been taught by the school and their parents how to protect their boundaries, to talk about EVERYTHING their teachers did, and to tell about any attempt to touch their private areas?
What if the children knew that problems, games, touch, gifts, and alone time with adults are not supposed to be secrets?
We cannot change the past, but we can make sure that school administrators, teachers, counselors, parents, and children all have these skills to help protect young people in the future.