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Massachusetts Held Liable for Abuse of 2 Students

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The Massachusetts Supreme Court has held the state liable for damages for failing to keep a man convicted of child molestation out of the teaching profession.

The state high court's ruling last month came in a case involving the molestation of two Boston schoolboys by their teacher in 1979.

Prior to 1978, the teacher, Edward Darragh, had been convicted three times on child-molestation charges. That year, as a condition of his parole, he was ordered to refrain from teaching or associating with young boys.

Nevertheless, he subsequently took a job teaching science at the Barnes Middle School in Boston. In 1979, Mr. Darragh was convicted on nine counts of indecent assault and battery after being charged with molesting two boys at the school in a locked storage room, according to Charles R. Capace, the lawyer who represented the students in the case.

Parole Officer's Negligence

In 1986, a superior-court jury found that the boys were entitled to damages under Massachusetts' tort-claims act because Mr. Darragh's parole officer failed to ensure that he complied with the conditions of his parole and refrained from teaching.

The state appealed that decision on the grounds that it could not be held liable for the negligent acts of its employees, but the supreme court upheld the jury's decision by a 4 to 3 vote.

Boston school officials settled out of court a separate suit filed against them by the victims of the assault. Lawyers for the boys alleged that the school's principal had failed to investigate a complaint by a parent that she had seen Mr. Darragh fondling a student in a corridor.

The two boys received a total of $250,000 in damages from both the state and the Boston school district, their lawyers said.

According to state education officials, Massachusetts still has no law requiring criminal-background checks on those applying for teaching positions. However, they added, teachers convicted on child-molestation will most likely lose their state certification.--LJ

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