Handling the aftermath of a trusted teacher’s offense


Child pornography allegations against a fourth grade teacher have shaken Alexandria, though the city is far from the first left struggling to understand the actions of an employee. 
Federal authorities arrested Justin Coleman, a dual languages teacher at John Adams Elementary School, earlier this month after a search of his home allegedly revealed a large collection of child pornography. The charges against Coleman and the way officials handled the situation irked some parents, culminating with an emotional community meeting addressing the allegations just days later. 
Administrators grappling with the fallout need look no further than nearby jurisdictions for a sympathetic ear. Fairfax County substitute teacher Allen Winters was sentenced to 63 months in prison in 2006 for subscribing to a child pornography website.
When it comes down to monitoring an individuals after-hours behavior, theres not much officials can do until everything comes to light and it usually does, said Paul Regnier, Fairfax County Public Schools spokesman. 
Ive been doing this job for about 25 years and I have seen employees get involved in various things, particularly outside the school system, he said. Often times you have no way of knowing if this is occurring.
Teachers in Fairfax, as in Alexandria, undergo background checks against a federal a database managed by the FBI, according to Regnier.  
If and when administrators learn of criminal or otherwise inappropriate activity outside school, they take the necessary steps, whether contacting police or putting the individual on leave, Regnier said. 
We do find cases where we [learn] people are involved in various things and thats reported and the police are involved and we take care of that, he said. Those individuals are put on leave and ultimately terminated once theyre confronted and we have proof of what theyve done.
Its not foolproof, he said, and there are situations where officials dont learn until after the employee is caught.
Coleman, a teacher in Alexandria since 2005, had a clean background a point his attorney argued in a failed attempt to keep the Falls Church resident out of jail pending his federal trial.
The question of what comes next is a difficult one, said Ken Blackstone, spokesman for Prince William County Schools. Bull Run Middle School teacher John B. Shulick was arrested on charges of child pornography possession after evidence of a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old Fairfax County girl surfaced in 2008. 
Certainly we do things about it in a preventative sense and in a follow-up sense, but these issues were talking about are criminal issues, societal issues and community issues, Blackstone said. 
Teachers in Prince William County undergo background checks as well, according to Blackstone, and their staff regularly attend state mandated training sessions on topics like sexual harassment. 
The difficulty comes in knowing when an employee has strayed across the line especially after theyve gained the trust of parents, their coworkers and supervisors, Blackstone said. 
Its not that difficult to find out through background checks if somebody has a criminal record thats easy to do, he said. The harder part is once somebody has passed those tests and has established a level of trust, whether thats with your employer or students, and then they make a conscious decision and a knowing decision [to go] against the rules.
In Alexandria, Colemans arrest has already sparked a review of the vetting process volunteers undergo and officials and administrators are hoping to streamline the way they alert parents to any similar, future situation. Staff met again with parents Wednesday night to discuss further steps.