In teachers we trust Anne Arundel County: School board has no obligation to return Newman to classroom.

September 20, 1996

THE ANNE ARUNDEL Board of Education may have rescinded the firing of Thomas A. Newman, who was accused and acquitted of sexual misconduct with students. It does not, however, have to return him to the classroom as a teacher. If Mr. Newman wants to continue to work for the school system, he should remain in an administrative position, where he has been for the past three years.

While Mr. Newman was acquitted on criminal charges, the standard of finding guilt at a criminal trial -- beyond a reasonable doubt -- is not the standard used in an administrative proceeding. If sufficient evidence suggests a teacher has behaved inappropriately, the board must not hesitate to keep that person out of a classroom.

In Mr. Newman's case, four female students charged that over an 11-year period he had sexual contact with them or engaged in sexually suggestive behavior. An Anne Arundel County hearing officer said that the evidence supporting the charges was vague, contradictory or far-fetched and recommended that Mr. Newman be rehired.

After its own review, school board chairman Joseph H. Foster said while the individual charges were not believable, they revealed a disturbing pattern. Although a slim majority of the board supported Superintendent Carol Parham's previous firing of Mr. Newman, the board fell one vote short of the five votes it needed to uphold the firing. If the superintendent keeps Mr. Newman in his administrative post and he fights that decision, the board should be prepared to take whatever action is required to keep him from teaching.

Returning Mr. Newman to the classroom would cause great upheaval in the community. Some might interpret it as a retreat from the system's strong stand against sexual contact between teachers and students.

Faced with the choice between an inconclusive case against a teacher and protecting students, the board must decide in favor of the children. Teachers must be treated fairly. But in situations involving numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, let them work with other adults elsewhere in the system. Schools have to maintain the trust of parents by ensuring the security and well-being of their children.

Pub Date: 9/20/96

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