We regularly see media accounts regarding allegations of inappropriate conduct by school employees ranging from over-reaction to student disciplinary situations to serious physical assaults on students by school employees.
Having been directly involved with many investigations relating to misconduct by school employees, experience has shown that as with other fields such as law enforcement, there are people in the field who will do some very inappropriate and even criminal things and there are many false or exaggerated allegations. We also see this in our expert witness work. I have had cases where school officials have done things that were very poorly and students have died. I have also seen instances where allegations of terrible acts of misconduct turned out to be without basis in fact once the forensic evaluation had been conducted.
Allegations reported in the media today regarding school employees who reportedly made a child strip naked and take a shower in front of them are a case in point. It is not possible to determine from the media accounts if these allegations have merit or not. The attorney representing the child alleges that the staff members not only made the child strip naked but that they verbally abused and ridiculed the child for being “smelly”. School officials have declined to comment on the case most likely on the advice of legal counsel. As with other types of organizations that are often advised by attorneys to decline comment, this puts school officials at a disadvantage while also making it harder for the public to accurately determine if anything was or was not done wrong.
We recommend that people be slow to pass judgement on these cases as with criminal cases. Many of us were sure that Richard Jewell had placed the explosive device in Centennial Park during the Atlanta Olympic Games only to learn that he was not only innocent, but that he was the hero who saved many lives that day by his alertness. This and many other cases indicate that it is prudent to remember that not everyone who is accused of wrongful actions is guilty. Our legal system affords ample opportunity for people to address allegations of a serious nature. While it is far from perfect, it is among the best legal systems in the history of the world and we should generally give it a chance to work before we pass final judgement on others without all the facts before us.
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