By MIKE HARDEN
Scripps Howard News Service
April 21, 2005
You are peacefully mowing the back yard when a distraught young woman stumbles out of a nearby tree line. She is dazed and disheveled. It is clear that she has been attacked.
Do you call 911?
Or do you call the neighborhood civic association president to assess the potential collateral damage from getting police and emergency officials involved? It could affect the neighborhood's image, might even drive down real-estate values.
Of course you call 911, unless you also happen to be an administrator at Mifflin High School in Columbus, Ohio.
At this writing, the aftershocks from the sexual assault March 9 on a 16-year-old girl who is a developmentally disabled student are rumbling across the United States.
Police recommend charging two male students with delinquency counts of rape and a third, who is accused of videotaping the attack, with pandering obscenity.
The Mifflin principal is being fired, and three of her assistants have been suspended for 10 days and will be reassigned to other schools.
The punishment for the latter three is insufficient. The Ohio Department of Education should yank their licenses as teachers and administrators. As "mandated reporters" of such crimes, the administrators should be charged with the appropriate misdemeanor for failing to do so.
What they did was unconscionable. Had it been murder instead of rape, that sort of mentality would first look for a place to stow the body until damage-control measures could be mounted.
The school district would likely prefer that we believe the incident at Mifflin is isolated to the school.
Tension simmers between the high school's black American and Somali students. A year ago, two Mifflin students kidnapped a 24-year-old woman from her garage because they needed gas money. They locked the woman in her car trunk, doused her and the vehicle with gasoline and then set it afire. A third Mifflin student was later found guilty of using the slain woman's stolen ATM card.
So it is just the school, right?
A fish rots from the head down.
"We hear of people being told not to call 911," said Rhonda Johnson, president of the teachers union, the Columbus Education Association. "There was a teacher at a North Side elementary school who passed out in a diabetic coma. The gym teacher found the woman on the floor of her classroom and dialed 911, and he was reprimanded by the principal."
Until the Mifflin incident exploded, Johnson said, she had been scheduled for a meeting this week on a case involving yet another Columbus teacher reprimanded for calling 911.
In August, at a district-sponsored Administrators Leadership Academy, she asked school administrators from across the city who they would least like to see show up at their school - the union, a school-board member, the superintendent of schools or the news media. The media won handily.
The school district is paying Gayle Saunders, a special assistant and education administrative specialist, a six-figure salary to handle media relations. She could earn her money by dispensing the most simple of directives: When a crime against a student has been committed, forget image. Instead, act as a concerned parent would.
After all, after the attack, it was not a school administrator who called the police, but a concerned parent. How grievously sad it is that the parent was the father of the rape victim.