This week’s article about allegations of a teacher’s improper behavior at Peachtree Charter Middle School is a frustrating reminder of how far we still have to go to ensure that our children, especially our daughters, grow up in safe learning environments that enable them to thrive.
The details of what this teacher is accused of doing are disturbing, involving possible verbal and physical abuse with an element of anti-Semitism. For now, we don’t know all the details about what happened Dec. 7 and before, so it’s too soon to say what should happen to the teacher or whether the Peachtree Middle administration or the DeKalb County School District missed warning signs about this teacher’s behavior and beliefs.
But we can see the significant pieces of the bigger picture of what happened after a Jewish girl reported being tripped and laughed at by the teacher and students said another child was pulled from a chair, pinned to the ground and yelled at through a megaphone.
This teacher was already being questioned about a graphic class assignment and had been pulled out of the classroom to separate him from children at least once. So we can’t understand why the school choose not to put the teacher on leave while thoroughly investigating the incidents. Why was he simply moved to another classroom until, almost seven weeks later, a TV reporter began asking questions and compelled school action?
Again, we don’t have all the facts, and we are not supporting a rush to judgment. But in any situation where the safety of students is in question, a teacher must accept paid leave during the investigation.
Nothing sexual or systematic is alleged at Peachtree Middle, but the approach of moving an authority figure under a cloud instead of first trying to resolve accusations echoes far too many horrific cases in recent history, including Larry Nassar, the Michigan State and USA Gymnastics doctor who sexually abused hundreds of girls and young women over decades and is set to spend the rest of his life in prison.
All too often, people entrusted with the protection of children worry too much about colleagues or institutions and not enough about the young people who should take priority and who can suffer psychic scars from being ignored and exposed to danger in places where they should be safe.
Essentially, this is where we were almost a year ago when a few Davis Academy moms woke up to the rising threats of various forms of hate and launched the Atlanta Initiative Against Anti-Semitism. AIAAS held a hugely successful community forum last March, then held a meeting attended by hundreds of leaders just about problems in education in early November.
Still, a month after that session and only five miles away, officials at a public school either didn’t know what to do when a girl came forward with a complaint or simply made the wrong choice. That’s unacceptable.
Meanwhile, we as a community can’t be satisfied to have raised issues about student security and support in schools over the past year. With the lead of AIAAS, we have a grasp on the problems. We must be diligent and persistent in finding the solutions.