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RESPONDING TO FEAR
AMHERST SCHOOL DISTRICT REACTS WELL TO PARENTS' CONCERNS AFTER TEACHER IS CHARGED

It goes without saying that it's a tragedy whenever a child is sexually exploited, especially by a trusted authority figure. It is vital that the situation be handled with care and consideration so the tragedy is not made even worse.

Amherst School District officials are now faced with accusations that one of their teachers may have been involved in an international child pornography ring. Trent Hariaczyi, 29, a Smallwood Drive Elementary School teacher, is one of 20 suspects from across the United States and Europe facing felony charges in connection with the ring. No local victims have been identified, according to authorities, and Hariaczyi is accused of receiving pornography via the Internet rather than generating it.

It's hard to imagine a more sensitive situation for school officials to confront. Amherst school officials have, by all appearances, handled a difficult situation with care. They have done a credible job in reaching out to students and parents and providing outside counseling and advisers. They brought in social workers to help parents communicate with their children about this difficult situation.

Edward Suk, director of the Child Advocacy Center, was able to provide a wealth of information to parents. Among the advice given included the manner in which to ask questions, putting them in simple form and avoiding implications that might do more harm than good to children.

School officials quickly realized the trepidation that the charges against Hariaczyi caused among parents. They have acted quickly to help assuage those fears. One might say that the reaction of the school district seemed obvious. But there are enough examples of bureaucracies - educational or otherwise - that didn't respond well to situations like this to make the community appreciate the job done by Amherst school officials.

We place our children in the care of others, and when there's a risk or concern that the trust is broken and our children can be harmed, it's incredibly troubling. The reality is that, even in school, it's extremely difficult to keep our children safe 100 percent of the time.

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