Don't Ask, Don't Tell

A local teacher who molested his charges was allowed to take a new job in West Virginia, where a student died in his care.

By Aina Hunter
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 4 | Posted Sep. 22, 2004

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A suit filed in West Virginia's Fayette County Circuit Court last week names Interboro School District as one of several defendants. Nineteen-year-old Michael Pascocciello claims the school district knew Friedrichs was a pedophile when it recommended him for a position in West Virginia. Pascocciello was present when his friend Jeremy Bell died in Friedrichs' care.

  Next week: Part two: picking up Friedrichs' trail in West Virginia.

 

Staff writer Aina Hunter (ahunter@philadelphia weekly.com) last wrote about the imminent demolition of buildings on 18th Street near Rittenhouse Square.


Passing the Trash

Sadly, teachers who molest often keep their licenses.

Transferring teachers accused of molestation to a different school--or, in more serious cases, allowing them to leave a school district quietly by providing them with letters of recommendation, is a practice so common it has its own name. It's called "passing the trash."

Charol Shakeshaft, co-author of the Shakeshaft-Cohan study, the most recent scholarly work on sexual abuse in the classroom, says it's not surprising that the Interboro superintendent in Prospect Park didn't try to have Friedrichs' teaching license revoked. In her 1995 study of 225 school districts across the country that had dealt with allegations of abuse by teachers, only 1 percent of the superintendents moved to have teachers' licenses revoked.

Further, in the Shakeshaft-Cohan study, none of the surveyed superintendents involved police. "There is no excuse or rationale for that," she says. "These are crimes, abuse and exploitation."

Criminologists say that one way to understand why allegations are kept quiet is to draw an analogy between law enforcement's relationship to schools and its relationship to religious institutions.

Traditionally police have a gentlemen's agreement with these institutions--they butt in only if invited because they trust schools and churches to police themselves.

Unfortunately, sometimes what's best for the kids is at odds with the interests of the institution. School district lawyers heavily influence decisions made about allegations of abuse.

If the lawyer thinks a teacher is a molester, they're likely to recommend that the teacher be talked into leaving quietly. It costs nothing to let them keep their license, and if they leave town, the parents are usually satisfied.

On the other hand, if police are involved or a license is revoked, the teacher will probably file a grievance with his union. That means a protracted, possibly embarrassing suit with the star witness being an injured kid whose parents may decide shouldn't testify anyway.

The result is that teachers facing allegations usually just leave, as Friedrichs did, only to show up in another district, without the hiring district having a clue what they're getting.

A symptom of this dangerous practice is increased anxiety among teachers and administrators, which has caused some districts to ban the touching of children point blank.

Shakeshaft says overcorrecting is also harmful to children, because physical contact and affection is a good, healthy part of a student-teacher relationship. (A.H.)

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1. Anonymous said... on Feb 16, 2011 at 11:48AM

“Where did friedricks live while he worked in Prospect Park...are there reports of him molesting in the neighborhoods (in wooded areas or on streets) at this time? Did he only molest children well known to him.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 10:18AM

“He went after well groom, good standing boys. I had him when I was at Interboro (5th grade) We would everyday, have to write our letters ABCs
once we were done a page, we would take it up to him and he would correct it with the students next to him. He always always have his hand around the the boys and hold them tight while checking the work. only the boys no girls I will never forget that, never understood why he did that.
he also had the boys desk around his deck. He was a very mean teacher”

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3. Anonymous said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 10:27AM

“CON'T FROM ABOVE
Interboro knew what he was!! in my class it was a boy name Steve his father was a priest and quess who started to go to church? i know because I went to that church too! Steve's father caught on what this guy was!!
he went to the school broad back then and they did nothing about! Quess who stop going to church once Steve;s father did that! i will never forget him because is was so mean to the kids, you never step out of line with him
years later when I heard what he did the past made sense to me”

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4. Anonymous said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 10:08PM

“I heard about this, but first time I read all about it. I will never forget being in his class for math, and since I had switched schools the prior year, I was never taught short division. I was a smart kid, and rather than simply take a few minutes to teach me this after class, he put me into a lower math class (his was the highest). I liked my new Math teacher, but was bored to death!! It always bothered me why he did that. He was a popular teacher as far as I knew then, so it really made me feel bad. But alas, I am a female!! Now all is clear. Even when I became a safety, finally, as it was a coveted position, and it was full of boys, I never could see why kids thought he was so great. I hated him for putting me a dumber class, and I always thought he was mean to students. Now it all makes sense. I am horrified what he did to my classmates! I remember those huge closets, I am so sorry anyone was abused like that.”

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