When a teacher is falsely accused, what happens?
Stories of teachers accused by students of wrongdoing are unfortunate and can result in their dismissal, arrest and prosecution.
But what happens when a teacher is wrongly accused?
That’s what happened to a teacher in the Humboldt Unified School District last month. The teacher was alleged to have child porn on a computer. A Prescott Valley Police investigation cleared him and no further action was taken.
Dan Streeter, HUSD Superintendent, said, “I’m not sure that there was an accusation in this case as much as there was misinformation being relayed.
“While we do not get a lot of false accusations, there are specific district policies and procedures that are followed related to conducting a thorough investigation,” Streeter said.
With the speed of internet social media, the old phrase, “A lie will go ’round the world while truth is pulling its boots on,” has never been more true.
Joe Howard, Superintendent of the Prescott Unified School District, said that, recognizing the impact a false accusation can have, “We always do a thorough
investigation. We are as careful as possible with regard to confidentiality, as these things can become ‘witch hunts.’ A false accusation can have some pretty harsh consequences on a reputation.”
But Streeter said these kinds of accusations leveled against teachers are infrequent.
“I do not think that teachers are too concerned with false accusations as they do not occur very often,” he said.
Howard agreed that teachers don’t worry about negative ramifications of false accusations.
“I like to think that there is trust within our ranks that we will treat all sides fairly. What’s tough is, this is such a great profession, and there are millions of teachers. When one does something bad across the country, it makes us all look bad,” Howard said.
He added that, in 21 years in the business, he’d only seen it happen “a couple of times.
“But they are usually around another situation where a teacher — even in another district — is found to have done something, and then sometimes kids will say, ‘Well, that person gives me the creeps.’ I’ve seen that happen once when I was principal and it was hard to reign in.”
The question of what happens to students who make an accusation that ultimately proves to be wrong isn’t easy to answer.
“If a student did relay a false accusation, we would … follow policies and procedures related to student discipline,” Streeter said, but as for specifics, “All incidents produce unique circumstances so specific actions would be difficult to determine in this sense.”
“Policy on discipline is pretty flexible because these things tend to be situational,” said Howard. “If it disrupts the educational process, as it often can, then we can get pretty tough. But depending on severity, we have consequences as little as a verbal to as much as suspension.”