By Anthony J. Ogorek
“During her senior year at Nichols School, Elizabeth Russ Mohr had a romantic and sexual relationship with her physics teacher, Arthur Budington. She was 17; he was 48.” So read the opening quote from a front-page story in The Buffalo News concerning an inappropriate relationship between a student and one of her teachers.
Having been a public school teacher for nearly a decade in a past life, I may be able to shed some light on why Mohr’s hope that “it will prompt other local schools and districts to take a close look at their procedures for dealing with such incidents” may be a well-intentioned, yet futile attempt to change the system for the better; which must be done.
She is correct in stating that “It’s not just about me. It is about power, it is about institutions, and the behavior of teachers and administrators.” Mohr has hit the nail on the head!
The primary imperative for most institutions is self-preservation. Expecting an institution to potentially put its economic and reputational survival on the line to protect the interests of any individual may be going a bridge too far.
Private schools are particularly sensitive to reputational taint because their business plans are heavily reliant on parents paying tuition, and alumni continuing to make contributions. Any whiff of impropriety can risk a cascade of lost students, as well as alums looking to support other worthy causes. No one wants to be associated with, let alone financially support, an institution that is viewed in a less than flattering light.
So the question is how best can we protect students from these kinds of relationships in private schools? It would seem that due to the aforementioned institutional imperative, concerns about money, careers and reputational taint, schools are inherently at a disadvantage to handle these kinds of situations.
A potential answer is to go outside of private schools in order to protect the interests of students. Any concerns or complaints of this nature that administrators become apprised of should be referred to the local police force.
The very fact that staff members realize the potential consequences of inappropriate behavior should serve as a powerful deterrent. Teachers who become aware of inappropriate behavior on the part of a colleague have to be willing to step forward and report their suspicions to school authorities, and even the police. Most public schools have fraternization policies that deal with inappropriate behavior.
Teachers are required to report suspected cases of child abuse to Child Protective Services. Private school teachers and administrators should be required to report suspected cases of inappropriate behavior between a colleague and a student. Surely some enterprising legislator can see the benefit of enlisting educators to help protect their students.
Anthony Ogorek is a former teacher and founder and CEO of Ogorek Wealth Management in Williamsville.