A local teacher who molested his charges was allowed to take a new job in West Virginia, where a student died in his care.
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.)
The 50 greatest Philly pop songs