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Commentary: Educators Need To Do Better

May 1, 2015

Credit Fresno State

We expect professionals who serve our community to exhibit not only high standards of technical expertise, but also to treat their clientele with respect. Such minimal expectations were contradicted by recent violations of professional behavior in our local schools. In this edition of The Moral Is, Jacques Benninga, professor of Education at Fresno State, decries a low standard of educator ethics in recent headline-making news stories.

March 13 was a special day for teacher education in the Valley.  It was Fresno State’s annual conference on character and civic education, bringing together all student teachers from our university and from Fresno Pacific University for an all-day focus on issues related to developing the character of their future students and reinforcing in them their own ethical obligations to the profession.

The conference also provided a forum for Fresno State to honor Central Valley schools for excellence in character education.  After a months-long process, 13 middle schools and 6 high schools were publicly honored. By all accounts this year’s conference was a success. Substantive information was discussed with, and modeled for, our students.

So imagine our surprise when only several hours after the conclusion of this special day, a YouTube clip emerged, showing an administrator at one of the schools we had just honored telling a group of his students he “just [did not] like the black kids” at his school. The story made national news.

In subsequent days and weeks, the administrator was removed from his position and put on paid leave. The district spokesperson told a Fresno Bee reporter his district expects employees to “maintain the highest ethical standards”, yet at its next School Board meeting a supportive letter signed by 30 of the administrator’s colleagues was delivered describing him as a person of integrity.

What are we to make of such information? A long-serving school administrator making a callous and demeaning remark about and to his students.  The majority of his colleagues supporting him and intimating he had been set up by those 12 and 13-year olds. A district claiming it expects the highest ethical standards, and yet, six weeks later, there is no conclusion to the episode despite community outcry.           

This has not been a good period for educational ethics. In just the past few months, top school administrators in Atlanta were sentenced to jail for altering student test scores to enrich themselves, and Central Valley high school teachers were arrested for having sex with under aged students. Ethical abuse by teachers is no longer surprising.

The National Education Association is an organization to which most Central Valley teachers belong. It has a code of ethics that in part states that educators shall make reasonable efforts to protect students from conditions harmful to learning and shall not intentionally expose students to embarrassment or disparagement. These are rather obvious admonishments, hardly new ideas for experienced school administrators.

The administrator in question may be a nice man. His colleagues may like him. He may have lots of on the job experience. But his behavior in this case was inexcusable. He failed his professional ethics expectations in the most public manner. Such unprofessional behavior should not be tolerated.

The views expressed on The Moral Is are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Valley Public Radio.