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Fallout from Saranac teacher sex scandal:; Privacy laws can keep school leaders mum
Topic Started: Nov 27 2012, 10:25 PM (1,041 Views)
LPS Reformer
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The schools exist to educate, not employ.

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Booking photo of former Saranac High School teacher, Krag Sanford, who had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student.

Fallout from Saranac teacher sex scandal: Privacy laws can keep school leaders mum

GRAND RAPIDS, MI –The actions of the Saranac school board and its former superintendent, Jeanette Adams, have been scrutinized recently after a former high school teacher was charged in two counties and admitted having a sexual relationship with a teenage student, according to police and court records.

Yet according to legal counsel for the Michigan Association of School Boards there can be a lot of minefields to navigate in cases like this. The first thing any school district should do after being notified by police about sexual complaints involving an employee, is call its attorney.

“There are a number of privacy and due-process issues related to these types of matters,” said Brad Banasik with MASB. “The employee has a right to privacy and certainly the student."

The ones who might be left in the dark: Parents of other students in the district. Banasik said there is no legal requirement that others be notified of a criminal investigation.

Krag Sanford, 59, recently pleaded no contest to accosting a child for immoral purposes in Kent County and distributing sexually explicit materials to a minor in Ionia County.

Both charges are tied to Sanford's relationship with a student, now 17, that began nearly two years ago, according to text messages between the two that were released the week.

But there was a lengthy delay between when school officials became aware of allegations, and when criminal charges were filed against Sanford and the accusations became public.

Sanford's last day in the classroom was Oct. 14, 2010. He went on medical leave, and school officials have said there was not sufficient information before Sanford's resignation in November 2010 to bring any disciplinary action against him. On Dec. 2, 2010, the district entered into a separation agreement with Sanford, when then went on to work as a substitute teacher in other local district.

Sanford was charged with the two felonies involving the teen last month. On April 27, Saranac Schools sent a letter to parents saying it had been in communication with law enforcement since “approximately six weeks” after Sanford left the classroom in the fall of 2010.

In an October 2010 memo, Adams, the former superintendent, tells the school board, “At this point, there is nothing that would legally prohibit him from returning to his position,” and that she and the school attorney believe it is in the best interest of the district to negotiate the separation agreement. She goes on to say how they have been able to keep knowledge of Sanford quiet and wanted that to continue.

Jan Ellis, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Education, said when an employee has been actually charged or convicted of a crime is when officials can formally take actions to “protect all children.”

Banasik said the association doesn’t have any recommended guidelines for how to handle such cases when there is such a lag time between the accusations and the criminal charges, because the circumstances and facts are always going to be different, that’s why it is so important legal counsel is consulted at the outset. He said lawsuits are a concern.

Back-and-forth messages between Sanford and the teen indicate an ongoing sexual relationship identifying several meetings, including some at school.

The text messages released by authorities are from June 3, 2010 through Dec. 8, 2010, one suggesting a close relationship existed prior to and during that time frame.

Maury Geiger, the district’s current superintendent, said he had no knowledge of the text messages indicating on-campus encounters between Sanford and the teen. He said there have been no discussions about if Sanford’s separation agreement can be invalidated in terms of his compensation, or any changes to district policies that might result because of this case.

“Decisions made at the time were based on the information available at that time,” said Geiger, who said the community has been supportive of the district.

Email:mscott2@mlive.com and follow on Facebook and Twitter at Twitter.com/GRPScotty.

Edited by LPS Reformer, Nov 27 2012, 10:28 PM.
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The superintendent said he had no knowledge of what was going on. If he did, he should have reported it immediately as a child abuse. That seems to be what the law says.
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