The McDade case: Where do you draw the line?

Comment

April 28, 1996|By BRIAN SULLAM

PRIOR TO April 18, Bruce Edward McDade was a popular Anne Arundel County high school teacher known for his devotion to students and theater.

In his 24 years as a speech and drama teacher, he developed Arundel High School's theater program into one of the best in the region. Students considered him a dedicated, caring teacher who brought out the best in them. He even wrote a widely praised play that was staged at this year's state Thespian Festival. This much-admired man was the side of Mr. McDade the public knew.

But federal investigative officials allege there is another, private side to Mr. McDade that involves a prurient interest in child pornography. When U.S. postal and custom inspectors raided his house on April 18, they say they discovered an extensive collection of computer images of young boys engaged in a variety of perverted sex acts.

Overnight, this teacher who had been considered a role model became an outcast and unfit to teach in the school system.

Unlike Price

Unlike Ronald Price, the convicted Anne Arundel teacher who for years sexually exploited female students, no allegations have surfaced to date that Mr. McDade took advantage of the youths that he taught or coached. From all indications, Mr. McDade's behavior with adults and children was always proper and appropriate.

From what is publicly known in this case, it appears that the supposed fascination with young boys was intensely private and tightly controlled. Mr. McDade's alleged crime is possession of child pornography that he downloaded from the Internet. Affidavits offered at his bail hearing indicated that Mr. McDade possessed child pornography but none was offered that he ever took any pictures or engaged in any sexual activity with minors.

It is clear that Mr. McDade's career as a classroom teacher is over. It doesn't matter that he has a distinguished and unblemished record. Even if Mr. McDade is acquitted of these federal charges, very few parents would be willing to allow him in a classroom with their children.

Underlying this incident is an interesting dilemma: Where do the teachers' rights of privacy end and where does the public's right to know as much as possible about the people teaching their children begin?

In some ways, there are similarities between Mr. McDade's case and that of Peter Melzer, a former teacher at the Bronx High School of Science in New York. Mr. Melzer, a teacher with 30 years in the city's public schools, was editor of a newsletter published by the North American Man/Boy Love Association, a group that advocates "consensual" sex between men and boys.

Unlike Mr. McDade, Mr. Melzer never hid his views. He had been a long-standing member of NAMBLA, openly attended its meetings and put his name on the organization's newsletter. Only after a television station showed him at a NAMBLA meeting did the school system remove him from his position. While the local case involves allegations of criminal activity, Mr. Melzer's transgressions involved his constitutional rights of free speech.

In correspondence with a postal inspector posting as a pedophile pen pal, Mr. Melzer admitted that he was "attracted to boys up until the age of 16," but also said he would "not engage in unlawful acts." Apparently he kept his word. His students never complained about him making any advances or promulgating his strange views on sex.

Some parents argued that while teachers with strange views like Mr. Melzer have a constitutional right to say and think whatever they want, they don't have a constitutional right to be teachers. These parents would say that such bizarre views on adult and child sexual relationships would make it difficult for these teachers to discharge at least one of their duties: report possible cases of sexual child abuse.

What of other strange views?

What, then, does the system do about teachers with strange views on other subjects that have nothing to do with sex but are equally upsetting to mainstream thought? What if a teacher was an extreme animal rights advocate and believed that human and animal lives are equal, or a teacher whose free time was spent working for racist organizations, or one who collected human skulls and used them as bowls for eating?

How deeply can school systems inquire about teachers' personal lives? A background check on Mr. McDade would have probably turned up nothing because the man had no criminal record.

Can school systems force employees to answer extensive and very personal questionnaires in order to unearth information about possible deviancy? Is it acceptable for teachers to have unconventional political, social or religious views but unacceptable to have bizarre views on sex?

Where do we draw the line? In light of cases like the one that shook Arundel High this month, school officials are going to have to address that question.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 4/28/96

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