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Preschool Teacher Pitfalls

With the importance of preschool finally recognized, it's a propitious time to recall the McMartin preschool sexual-abuse case ("The Great Day-Care Sexual-Abuse Panic," The Weekly Standard, Jul. 17).  I say that because I believe that preschool teachers are vulnerable to similar charges in the future.

For readers elsewhere, a brief summary of the facts is essential to understand my concern.  Until the scandal hit, the McMartin preschool had been a popular and highly regarded institution in Manhattan Beach, Calif. since 1966.  But that was before Judy Johnson, whose son was enrolled, accused the school of a series of child molestation acts too lurid to list here. 

Looking back, I remember the front-page coverage that the Los Angeles Times gave the story.  The details seemed too bizarre to be credible, and yet the district attorney persisted in making the case the longest and most expensive criminal trial in California history. When it was over and no convictions emerged, the accused were left broken people.

My point in recalling this travesty of justice is that it can happen again.  All it takes are highly impressionable child-witnesses, unscrupulous prosecutors, and mass hysteria.  Teachers who choose to teach in preschool have virtually no protection against outrageous charges.  We want our toddlers to be safe and secure, but we also need to balance their rights against those of their teachers.  I seriously question if the proper lessons have been learned. 

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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