April 15, 2005

A failure to protect students


Florida should create -- and require adherence to -- a better system for investigating and tracking complaints of sexual abuse and misconduct involving educators and students.

Current safeguards are inadequate and inconsistently applied. State officials should intervene and oversee an overhaul.

The latest evidence of the system's shortcomings is the story of Sean Ford, a teacher and volleyball coach who worked or had contact with students for more than a decade at schools in Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee counties -- despite a troubling pattern of behavior that eventually led him to surrender his teaching certificate.

As Herald-Tribune reporter Tiffany Lankes detailed in an article Sunday, multiple breakdowns in communication -- involving school leaders, school districts, state officials and law enforcement -- enabled Ford to move from school to school.

Information about Ford's past, including a finding by state investigators of evidence that he'd violated ethical standards by having sexual relationships with two students, wasn't relayed to school or law-enforcement officials.

The lack of communication became abundantly clear in 2003, when parents at Lakewood Ranch High School in Manatee began questioning Ford's role in assisting the coach of the volleyball team. After learning more about his past, the school district banned him from its campuses.

Ford's record resurfaced earlier this year following news reports that a longtime Manatee educator, Joseph Gilpin, was part of a settlement reached by the Archdiocese of Boston with numerous individuals who reported being sexually abused by priests. Gilpin had been accused of molesting two boys while studying to become a priest in the Northeast in the 1960s.

Posted by kshaw at April 15, 2005 07:20 AM