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Sexual Misconduct and the Madison County Board of Education

09.01.15 11:28 AM – Andy McDonald
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It’s really quite remarkable.

At the beginning of Madison County Board of Education meetings, there’s usually a showcase demonstrating the latest student achievements from around the district. I’ve been impressed with the spectacular diversity of talent Madison County schools produce. Academics. Athletics. The arts. Technology. If one sees no more than that 10-minute presentation at the beginning of every school board meeting, that alone is a powerful testament to the value that Madison County tax payers and parents are getting for their money.

But into each life, some rain must fall, and perhaps no one knows the truth of that adage more than Madison County School Superintendent Elmer Thomas. Especially this year. I can only imagine what some of his mornings have been like.

“Good morning, Mr. Thomas.”

“Good morning,” Thomas greets his assistant cheerfully. “What have we got going on today?”

“Well let’s see. Parents are complaining about the late opening at White Hall due to construction delays.”

“Okay, we’re on it. What’s next?”

“Somebody rammed one of our buses in Waco, and afternoon traffic at Silver Creek Elementary is backing up all the way to Red Lick. Oh, and the district is being sued because a middle school child broke her leg while roller skating in gym class.”

“Right,” Thomas sighs as he swallows a couple of aspirin with a swig of coffee. “Anything else?”

“There are still some road construction delays around Farristown, and a corpse was found on one of our baseball fields.”

“A corpse. Right.” Thomas nods thoughtfully, popping another two aspirin.

“You don’t seem surprised.”

“The way things are going, why should I be surprised?”

“Just one other item,” the assistant begins tentatively. “A high school teacher confessed to having sex with a student, and there’s a veritable armada of news vans staked out in front of the school.”

“Any good news?”

“Well, the new brand of chicken fingers is a hit in the cafeterias,” she says hopefully, as Thomas begins pouring the contents of the entire aspirin bottle into his mouth.

Okay. So there have been a few bumps so far this year, but it’s important to remember that there are also many good things happening in Madison County schools.

The high school graduation rate is going steadily up. And last time I checked, some pre-ACT test scores are also rising in impressive fashion. On top of all that, the district is poised to complete one of the most ambitious district-wide renovation projects in some time.

For every bad piece of news that comes along, there’s actually much more good news that goes unnoticed, stories of the overwhelming majority of dedicated instructors and staffers who are doing remarkable things everyday to educate students in Madison County.

The trouble with this latest episode of teacher misconduct, however, is just that -- it is the latest episode. It’s no longer an isolated incident but a series of events. A Southern high school coach is collared for sending sexually inappropriate texts. A Central staffer is convicted of sexually abusing a student. A Southern assistant principal is charged with sexual abuse and assault. Now another teacher confessed to engaging in a sexual relationship with a student.

Is the Madison County Board of Education taking action to address what has become a trend? The board needs to send a message that they are working on it.

Perhaps social media and technology is the problem. Maybe it’s luring students and teachers to encroach on the boundaries of appropriate behavior in ways administrators could never have anticipated. Whether that is or isn’t actually the problem, the Madison County Board of Education needs to demonstrate that it is working affirmatively and aggressively to prevent things like this from happening in the future.

If they don't there's a danger things like this could continue to overshadow otherwise impressive achievements occuring in Madison County schools.

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