Editor's note: Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School District Superintendent Carol Woodbury made the following statement at the Dennis-Yarmouth School Committee meeting Monday night.
One of the biggest challenges that people in leadership roles face is what they can and cannot say publicly. Students and staff members are entitled by law to privacy in certain areas that do not allow disclosure in a way that helps the public to have confidence in certain decisions.
Every educator is held to a very high standard. Both the National Education Association and the Massachusetts Teachers Association have a Code of Ethics to guide them. In one MTA Advisory about on-line activities it states, “Educators are entitled to enjoy their personal lives outside of school and to express themselves and their opinions in person and on-line. That said, because educators work with children and young adults and are seen as role models in the community, they are held to high standards for their public behavior and on-line activities.”
In addition to the laws and regulations there are a number of policies aligned to those laws that guide us. Each year our staff is required to review those laws, regulations, and policies through a 69-page online training. We have employee handbooks and most staff members belong to a union with a collective bargaining agreement that further outlines expectations. As one person often puts it, the contract guides both professional rights and responsibilities.
However, despite our best efforts sometimes someone messes up. At times it can be a really big mistake leading to severe discipline, a minor infraction leading to some kind of progressive discipline, or at times there will be “no finding.”
Whenever there is a problem brought to our attention it is investigated thoroughly by the appropriate administrator. The Superintendent deals with the most major issues. Sometimes when an investigation is taking place the staff member is put on administrative leave. This is usually used when we are concerned that we will not be able to investigate adequately while the person is present or if we feel there is imminent danger to students. When a person is put on administrative leave with or without pay they are entitled to know what they are being accused of and who their accuser is. Even in the criminal justice system people are entitled to know why they are being accused.
Sometimes it is important to keep an investigation “off the radar” to ensure you get the very best information possible. The length of the investigation depends on the quality of the information and the circumstances. It is possible, similar to an investigation by law enforcement, that putting a person on administrative leave would tip them off and jeopardize the investigation. Why something took so long can only be explained by sharing details that simply cannot be shared.
In a recent conversation I had with a retired state trooper he indicated to me that sometimes their investigations take longer than an accuser would like. However, in order to do the investigation well they advise the accuser to “sit tight” and let them do their job in order to reach a successful conclusion. In fact, our law enforcement officers do not knock on the door of someone they are investigating and tell them that they are under investigation unless they feel this will bring about the result they are looking for.
Whenever, I am handling any investigation my primary concern is the victim. Every decision I make is to ensure the victim is cared for and not re-victimized. When an investigation results in punishment for the person who “messed up,” allows the victim to go on without being re-victimized, and no one else is hurt I feel I have done my job well. It is really a bonus when my actions do not result is using taxpayer money on a settlement of any size.
I have been working with Chris Morin from Independence House around the Enough Abuse Campaign. I will be working with Chris to schedule a series of workshops for parents and the community around child sexual abuse. As stated by the Enough Abuse Campaign, “Child sexual abuse is “a silent epidemic” according to the American Medical Association.” It is my hope by bringing this information to the families in my district, “we will prevent people from victimizing children today and to prevent children from developing abusive behaviors in the future.” In addition, during our October Professional Days some of our staff will receive training that will allow them to put on workshops for families and the community in the future. We are also exploring other presentations for families in conjunction with the Office of the Sheriff for Barnstable County on alcohol and drug prevention and internet safety. We hope families will attend as we continue to work in partnership to protect all our children.