Teacher Scandals Mirror Trend

Article excerpt

A Pittsburgh teacher arrested Friday after police say they found child pornography on a home computer became the second local teacher in a week accused of sexual misconduct, and the third in Western Pennsylvania.

Edward L. Springer, 58, of Coraopolis, a special education teacher at Faison School's intermediate campus in Homewood, was jailed under $25,000 bond after his arraignment on 47 counts of sexual abuse of children in connection with child pornography on a computer confiscated from his home during a Jan. 18 search.

The Pittsburgh Public Schools assisted police in their investigation, spokeswoman Ebony R. Pugh said. Springer, on paid leave since police searched his home, will not be paid starting Monday, she said.

In the North Allegheny School District, officials this week accepted the resignation of teacher Julie Stimmel, 28, of Franklin Park, after allegations surfaced that she'd had an inappropriate relationship with a 17-year-old male senior.

Allegheny County police Assistant Superintendent James Morton said he expects detectives to meet next week with someone from the District Attorney's Office and a lawyer hired by the boy's family to discuss the case. Police were investigating whether alcohol was involved in the incident, said Mike Manko, spokesman for the district attorney.

Stimmel, who taught composition and American literature, attributed her resignation to personal reasons. She did not respond to requests for comment.

The offenders represent a small percentage of Pennsylvania's roughly 120,000 full-time teachers. But the state Department of Education has had to take action against teachers for sexual misconduct.

Sexual misconduct accounted for at least 15 of the 25 cases through July 26 in which the state suspended or revoked a teacher's license, or issued a public reprimand, according to records on the state's Web site and those the department provided to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. In 2005, it accounted for at least 33 of 55 cases that resulted in reprimands or license suspensions or revocations, according to those records.

The misconduct ranged from teachers inappropriately touching children to incidents of sexual abuse, to scanning porn sites in an elementary school classroom, according to state records.

"The vast majority of teachers are competent, capable and caring people," said Robert J. Shoop, a professor of educational law at Kansas State University. "The ones who aren't can hurt parents' kids."

In a third case this week, a 10th-grade teacher in Erie County was arraigned on charges that she engaged in a sexual affair with a 16-year-old male student.

State police charged Robin Lee Hecker, 32, of Albion, with five counts of corruption of minors. Hecker, an English teacher at Northwestern High School in Albion, was suspended with pay by the Northwestern School District.

Shoop, the author of "Sexual Exploitation in Schools: How to Spot It and Stop It," has served as a forensic expert in 45 cases involving teacher-student or coach-student abuse.

"These aren't people in trench coats hanging around playgrounds," he said. "Because most (teachers) are good, we tend not to look at them."

Civil court cases arising from sexual misconduct by teachers can result in multimillion-dollar awards against school districts for damages, especially if a complainant proves school officials should have known about the teacher's improper activity, Shoop said. …