District News Roundup
Public school administrators have a duty to protect students from sexual misconduct by school employees, and they can be sued when they fail to stop abuse they knew about or should have known about, a federal appeals court has ruled.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled this month that the superintendent and a principal in the Taylor (Tex.) Independent School District must stand trial in a civil-rights suit stemming from the alleged sexual abuse of a 15-year-old girl by a high school teacher-coach.
The two administrators had appealed a U.S. District Court judge's refusal to dismiss them from the suit, which also includes the teacher as a defendant.
The appeals-court panel upheld the judge on Oct. 2 in Doe v. Taylor Independent School District.
The appeals court said that the administrators had received numerous reports that the teacher showed affection for girls in his class, as well as information about his alleged sexual relationship with the girl.
"School superintendents and principals have a duty to police the halls of our public schools to insure that schoolchildren, who are obliged to attend, have an opportunity to learn and study in a school environment free from sexual molestation and harassment,'' the court said.
"There is simply too much evidence'' indicating the principal and superintendent knew of a pattern of misconduct by the teacher "to take this case away from a jury,'' the court added.
The Fifth Circuit ruling appears to conflict with other recent federal appeals-court decisions. For example, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in August that in most instances school officials are not liable for sexual abuse of students by other students.
A federal appeals court has ordered the dismissal of a lawsuit against a Wichita, Kan., school principal who allegedly refused to hire a teacher he believed had "homosexual tendencies.''
The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit reversed a U.S. District Court judge who had ruled that the teacher's civil-rights lawsuit against the principal could proceed to trial.
The teacher was a regular substitute seeking to fill a full-time teaching vacancy at Wichita North High School in 1988. He did not get the job, and the principal allegedly told the school's social-studies director it was because of the teacher's "homosexual tendencies.''
The substitute teacher is married and does not claim to be homosexual, but gay-rights groups backed his civil-rights lawsuit against the district. U.S. District Judge Patrick F. Kelly of Wichita last year ruled that homosexuals and perceived homosexuals are a "suspect class'' entitled to added constitutional protection against discrimination. He declined to dismiss the teacher's suit.
In its Oct. 9 ruling in Jantz v. Muci, the appeals-court panel said Judge Kelly "broke new ground'' by giving heightened protection to homosexuals. But the panel sidestepped the question of whether that holding was correct. The court instead ruled that the suit should be dismissed because the principal was legally immune.
The panel said that as of 1988, a "reasonable official'' would not have thought it illegal to refuse to hire a teacher based on a perception that he was homosexual.
A Japanese exchange student who understood little English was shot to death this month by a neighbor near Baton Rouge, La., when he failed to understand a command to "freeze.''
Yoshihiro Hattori, a 16-year-old senior attending McKinley High School in Baton Rouge, was looking for a fellow student's Halloween party with a friend when they approached the wrong house, police said.
When a woman answered the door and saw the young men, she called for her husband, Rodney Peairs, who appeared at the door with a handgun and ordered the boys to "freeze.'' Mr. Hattori did not understand the term and moved toward Mr. Peairs, who allegedly shot the boy at close range.
Although Mr. Peairs had not been charged last week, the local district attorney was investigating the case and plans to present the information to a grand jury on Nov. 4.
The incident, which received widespread attention in Japan, occurred in a rural community 25 miles from inner-city McKinley High School.
"Yoshi has friends here who are saddened by his death,'' Principal Charles Thomas said.
A Japanese school in New York that was created to foster biculturalism has been sued for allegedly discriminating against an American teacher.
Peter McNamara of New York City filed a $1 million state lawsuit this month against the Keio Academy in Purchase. The suit charges that the academy broke its contract with Mr. McNamara by failing to pay him for additional duties he performed while teaching at the school. In his suit Mr. McNamara seeks to be paid the back wages.
The former teacher also charges that he received less pay and different benefits from Japanese-born employees. He also alleges that his complaints about a verbal assault by a Japanese-born teacher went unanswered by school officials.
School officials would not comment on the lawsuit or Mr. McNamara's allegations.
James A. Burns, the superintendent of schools in Muscogee County, Ga., was murdered in his home last week.
Local police officials said they had no suspects or motive in the killing.
Mr. Burns, who had been appointed superintendent in July 1990, died early Oct. 21 after being stabbed by an intruder.
According to news reports in The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, police investigators said an intruder apparently entered Mr. Burns's bedroom shortly after midnight and stabbed him in the back with a hunting knife.
Mr. Burns, 50, whose wife and visiting parents were also in the house, reportedly awoke and chased the intruder downstairs and outside. He collapsed in the doorway and was found dead by police officers who arrived at about 12:30 A.M.
The school board has appointed Robert L. Bushong, Mr. Burns's deputy superintendent, as acting superintendent until a permanent successor can be found. District officials last week offered counseling services to students and employees.
Mr. Burns previously had served as superintendent in Pulaski County, Va.; Vero Beach, Fla.; and Tullahoma, Tenn. He had been named superintendent in Muscogee after his predecessor, Braxton Nail, committed suicide.
A woman allegedly raped by a former Atlanta school principal has filed suit against the district superintendent and the school board, charging that the officials ignored longstanding sexual harassment complaints against the principal.
The woman, who filed suit in U.S. District Court in Atlanta this month, claims that Superintendent Lester Butts and board members were aware of teachers' complaints against the principal, Robert L. Sellers, but failed to fire or demote him. The complaints, dating back to 1977, led officials to transfer the principal to different local elementary schools at least twice to cover up the charges, the suit contends.
Norman Slawsky, the lawyer for the alleged victim and for the Atlanta Federation of Teachers, said that at least three other teachers are willing to testify that Mr. Sellers sexually harassed them.
Mr. Sellers was starting his second year at John Hope Elementary School when he was arrested in August on charges that he raped and sodomized Mr. Slawsky's client when she went to his office to apply for a teaching job.
The former principal, who worked for the district at various schools beginning in 1956, has been bound over to superior court in Atlanta until a grand jury decides whether to indict him. Mr. Slawsky said he expected an indictment by the end of this week.
Meanwhile, Mr. Butts said an internal investigation into the principal's actions will continue.
Two District of Columbia teachers have won a permanent injunction in federal court prohibiting city and school officials from retaliating against them for criticizing school policy.
Sheriel Sexcius and William Edmead, teachers at H.D. Woodson High School, first sued the district in July 1988, claiming that their principal had threatened to fire them for finding fault with the school's science-education reforms and that she had violated their constitutional right to free speech.
In September of that year, Ms. Sexcius and Mr. Edmead were granted a preliminary injunction that prevented their dismissal or any change in job status. Principal Lucile Christian was later found guilty of violating that order when she neglected to give Ms. Sexcius any permanent teaching assignments, and was fined $1,000.
Lawyers for the district last week were discussing whether to appeal the decision. While the teachers are not asking for monetary damages, they have asked for legal fees, which are estimated at more than $100,000.
"We felt we were being harassed and retaliated against, and we are
very pleased with the decision,'' said Mr. Edmead.