Memories of molestations by Roman Catholic priests are fresh in the public's mind, along with the cover-ups of those crimes by church leaders. Less remembered is the McMartin Pre-School case of the late 1980s. The accusations of sexual abuse and satanic rituals at that family-run preschool in Manhattan Beach panicked a generation of parents. But the case eventually fell apart because some of the allegations were proved untrue, and no one was ever convicted.
Which one of these more closely resembles the situation at Miramonte Elementary School, where the entire staff will be replaced on Thursday? The number of faculty and staff members accused of misbehavior with students has grown from one to three in just a few days, along with complaints that parents and students who raised concerns in the past were told to "quit lying." On the other hand, a source says one of the alleged victims has already recanted her accusation, a reminder that it's hard to know in the immediate tumult that follows such situations which charges will stick and which will disappear.
John Deasy, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, is treating the events at Miramonte as though there might be a much bigger problem than just the arrests of two longtime teachers. He has hinted at a "culture of silence" at the school and has a commission investigating. His decision to remove the entire staff is certain to be emotionally and academically disruptive to students, not to mention costly for the district, which must pay both the Miramonte teachers who won't be teaching this semester as well as their replacements.
All this may, in the end, prove to have been unnecessary if no further incidents come to light. And yet it is understandable. Accusations are increasing, and as more is learned about them, so is parents' fear that their children might not have been safe even with well-liked teachers who had been at Miramonte for decades. After hearing repeatedly about school personnel rebuffing complaints of inappropriate faculty behavior, Deasy has an obligation to put the safety of students first.
That might seem to reflect badly on the employees who are now in paid limbo, many of whom are, no doubt, blameless and talented educators. Yet the investigation was going to continue, with questioning of all the staff. Students and their parents would have spent the semester wondering: Who's in trouble? Who can be trusted? That too makes it hard to get on with the business of educating. There might be no way to salvage a happy academic year for Miramonte, but Deasy is doing his best to make sure it's at least a safe one for students.