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Clearly she has not been a good steward of her classes because the principal twice visited her class and both times she was working individually with a student while other students were misbehaving or otherwise not being productive.
The Trenton district was also negligent because state law requires that all computers in public schools have software that prevents -- or filters out -- inappropriate materials. A public school cannot allow students to access pornography, whether it was just a little stunt that some boys pulled to get attention, or whether they were actually curious about a porn site and hoped to access it for a thrill of some kind.
Additionally, the Trenton school district is also potentially negligent because the Connecticut Guidelines for Teacher Evaluation Programs (Duke, 1995) require that before a teacher gets a contract, he or she must pass "…an essential skills examination (CONNCEPT)"; in fact teachers must pass a classroom assessment program based on "the Connecticut Competency Instrument (CCI) (Duke). The question here is, did Ms. Paulson take a skills examination to determine if she was qualified to teach technology to middle school students? And if she did not, then perhaps this should be done before Ms. Paulson can be cleared to continue her teaching assignment.
What should the consequences be for Ms. Paulson?
Assuming that is turns out to be true that pornographic photos were seen by students (all that is known is that one student complained to her parents), and assuming also that the district's mandate (based on state law) to install filtering software in all computers was not followed, the school should not suspend Ms. Paulson. She should not be suspended for a flaw in the technologic setup in the school. What is not known in this case is whether there is a teacher's union in this middle school. If there is a union, the protocol for dealing with a teacher who allowed pornographic material to be shown in her class will be very different than if there is no union.
Ms. Paulson may be a very competent person who has been placed in an assignment she is not fully competent to handle. If so, she should receive professional development training, and should not be singled out among the 80 teachers in this very large school for behavior that may have been lax in terms of classroom functionality but was not egregious or flagrantly in violation of policies and state law. The principal's relationship with the other 79 teachers could be harmed if he takes extreme action against Ms. Paulson, so this has to be kept in mind as well.
How will her rights be protected?
Ms. Paulson and the principal will have a formal session to go over this situation, and during that session her Constitutional rights must be protected and anything that is said in that meeting should be confidential. I do not believe a formal hearing or investigation should be conducted. Clearly this was a one-time event, and though it was unfortunate, it should not become a cause for concern in the school and especially in the community. Imagine the wild rumors and accusations if word gets out that there is "pornographic material" being shown in a technology class in a middle school. It will have very negative repercussions.
How to reestablish trust with the student and parent: The principal should reach out to the Mrs. Robertson, her husband and daughter to come to the school and discuss what happened, how it happened, and what is being done to make sure it doesn't happen again. Most parents are willing to work with schools to make their children's school experiences more productive, so this should not be a problem that a competent principal. A courteous session with Ms. Paulson on hand would go a long way to settling this situation and reaching common ground for all parties.
In conclusion, this situation could have been avoided if the principal had done his work at the outset (evaluation of Ms. Paulson), and if the district had made sure all computers had filtering software. Meanwhile, the principal should have learned from this situation that he needs to come to terms with a strategy for evaluations that is consistent, well-understood, and meets state and district guidelines.
Duke, D.L. (1995). Reconstruction of Thinking: From Accountability to Professional
Development. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Dunklee, D.R., and Shoop, R.J. (2006). The Principal's Quick-Reference Guide to School Law:
Reducing Liability, Litigation, and Other Potential…[continue]
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