Over the last few years we've read about various educational figures being accused of sexually deviant behavior. This was a topic of discussion--of course along with tuition and other yeshivah-related venting--with our hosts this past Shabbat in light of a new accusation.
So how should parents with children in the school react when someone in the school is accused of pedophilia? My reaction ("Don't switch the child to a different school" is in black followed by "switch the kid" in red):
1) Our host commented that accusations against a sexual predator in a school are not--on their own merit--enough of a reason to pull a child from the school. After all, she argued, it can happen anywhere. Unfortunately I think there is a certain truth to this. It's a "the grass isn't always greener" argument. And after all, pulling a child from one institution that does not have mechanisms in place to prevent--or at least minimize the risk of--such behavior (which unfortunately is typical in Jewish schools*) and putting him/her in another institution that lacks the same mechanisms may be pointless. (*Just to clarify, I don't think pedophilila is typical in Jewish schools, but rather the absence of good measures to prevent it is typical.)
Of course it can happen anywhere, but the fact that one pedophile felt comfortable and safe enough to act can mean there are others in the same institution who feel it is a haven for them to prey without repercussions. There is simply no way to clean house and realistically ensure a safe future no matter how the school reacts.
2) Since it can happen anywhere, the single most important factor in deciding whether or not to pull the child is how a school reacts when accusations are leveled against a staff member. Does it circle the wagons and deny that such activity happens or that the school is already doing all that is possible to prevent such behavior? Does the school hire independent professional outsiders to review how the alleged behaviours could have been prevented and recommend what steps can be taken to ensure such behaviour can't take place in the future? Are such recommendations followed up on? Are these policies in writing and are all staff members instructed in them? Does the school notify parents of the accusations and encourage them to talk their children about the specific case and about abuse in general? Is there any talk of consulting rabbonim?
3) Is there any indication that a cover-up took place or that other staff members were aware of what was going on? If yes, will anyone involved in a cover-up or otherwise involved in enabling what happened be fired?
Who really knows what happened, who knew what, etc.?
4) How far can/should we go to protect our children? Some people (myself included) think it's ridiculous that yeshivos don't fingerprint prospective staff, institute mandatory reporting policies, have written policies regulating staff-child interactions (e.g., never be alone with a kid in a closed area), etc. Yet we also regularly entrust our kids to others (e.g., camps; shul youth groups; Bnei Akiva, Pirchei Aguda and other youth groups; day care centers; babysitters; tutors; etc.) without even thinking about insisting on the same level of protection?
It's true that we can't stand by our kids' side 24/7 until they are eighteen years old. But the fact that our kids may sometimes be in environments over which we have no control shouldn't prevent us from trying to ensure they are in safe environments as often as possible.
4) It's your kid and there is no shame in taking steps born in illogical paranoia in order to protect him/her.