Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Low-Tech Lynching in Southeast Delco

My print column on the continuing plight of educator Rich Joseph is up.

The charges against him are flimsy to the point of being see-through. Joseph, a 30-year educator with a spotless record, is accused of "inappropriately touching" two young girls. Hugging and supposedly kissing them and telling them he "loved" them.

The stories sound highly unlikely if not completely made up. They both come from girls who know each other and have had trouble at the school.

But that didn't stop the Southeast Delco Superintendent Trudie Bennett from using the accusations to add her own dubious charges of "unlawful harassment" against Joseph. She alleges several verbal complaints against him for making a couple of female employees in her office "uncomfortable."

There is no documentation, timely or otherwise, that such complaints were ever made.

Joseph says early in his tenure at the district which started in 2006, it was Bennett who made improper remarks to him, calling him a "metrosexual" and shortening it to the nickname "Metro man." He says she tried to get overly-friendly with him and he rebuffed HER advances.

Additionally, he says she came to see him as a threat to her authority because he didn't hesitate to point out bad educational practices in the district.

Joseph has the support of just about every teacher with whom he briefly
worked at Darby Township School, where the alleged incidents supposedly occurred. He is credited by them with having helped turned around the culture of that school, improving student discipline and morale.

These same teachers are being prevented from testifying concerning what they personally and professionally know about the students who have made the accusations.

The only adult who claims he saw Joseph act "inappropriately" with students is the then-interim principal, David Tannenbaum.

He testified that he witnessed Joseph "inappropriately touching" several students during the course of the school of the early school year. Mostly hugs but one supposed kissing event. Yet, Tannenbaum also failed to document any of the incidents and couldn't name any of the children. He claimed he had several meetings with Joseph on the subject but failed to document any of them either. Joseph flatly denies any such talks or meetings ever happened.

In any case, Tannenbaum testified that he didn't believe there was anything "sexual" about the contact he alleged to be "inappropriate," only that it was overly-friendly and unprofessional. But he also admitted that Joseph did an excellent job as assistant principal, was good dealing with students and teachers alike.

The teachers who have testified at Joseph's hearing say that staff hugging young students at the school is hardly uncommon. And Joseph freely admits he's allowed some of the younger kids to hug him when they come off the bus or when they are upset or hurt to comfort them. At the hearing, Tannenbaum admitted he's done the same thing himself.

Joseph is quietly furious that his reputation has been so sullied. This is nothing short of character assassination, he says.

His dismissal hearing has been going on for months now, postponed for this reason and that. He is itching to testify before the board and give his side of the story.

Interestingly, in negotiations with the district he has been offered his job back, which would put an end to these proceedings. But he says he obviously can't work for Bennett under the circumstances.

What he wants is his back pay, his back benefits and a letter of recommendation from the school board that says he did his job professionally and with greatest degree of integrity.

His next hearing is now scheduled for Oct. 27.

Personally, I think it will be very difficult for Joseph to prevail the way this hearing is set up.

In essence, what he is asking is that the school board admit it hired an incompetent and vindictive superintendent and that would only make the board look bad.

We'll see.


Anonymous r said...

As it happens, Joseph has been offered his job back as part of a negotiated settlement, but he says under no circumstances would he come back and work in the district under Bennett.
Still, isn't it odd that district officials would offer to take back a man they believe inappropriately touched young female students?

Indeed. This is the most damning part of their case against him. It proves that either: A) They don’t believe he’s really guilty of the accusations against him, so indeed this is just a witch hunt of sorts or B) WTF kind of a school district are they running there that they would give a suspected pedophile his job back working with children?!
Either way, the administration needs to be gutted for dropping the professional ball.

October 8, 2008 at 12:05 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well this has been dragging out for a long time and is casting a shadow on the school district (along with many other things that is going on there)they need to do the right thing and they all know what that is. It appears by the articles that his career is ruined.

October 8, 2008 at 2:01 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Superintendent Bennett is to blame here. I interviewed for an administrative job in this district a little over a year ago. In providing feedback as to why I did not get offered the job, Dr. Bennett told me that I looked the part a little too well. Commenting on how nice I dressed! I couldn't believe it......And to think this woman leads a district. I really hope Mr.Joseph gets his reputation back. He sounds like a great administrator.

October 9, 2008 at 3:29 PM 

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