Horace Mann Case Prompts New Look at State Sex Abuse Laws

By Mary Ann Giordano (New York Times)
June 12, 2012

In the news on Wednesday, the fallout over the allegations of sexual abuse at Horace Mann, reported in The New York Times Magazine on Sunday, continues.

As William Glaberson reports in The Times, accusations of decades-past abuse at the private school in the Bronx has led to a renewed focus on New York's laws.

In the days since they were first described in an article in The New York Times Magazine, the accounts of abuse by several now-dead Horace Mann teachers have put a sharp new focus on state laws that make New York among the most restrictive in limiting legal recourse in child sexual abuse cases. For years, efforts in Albany to liberalize the laws have failed, often encountering fierce resistance from the Roman Catholic Church and other institutions that feared financially devastating lawsuits. "New York is one of the worst states in the country for child sex abuse victims," said Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University who specializes in sexual abuse law.

Speaking of laws, The Daily News reports that the city's high-profile attempt to fire teachers involved in the sexual abuse of students seems to have landed with a thud in Albany. As Kenneth Lovett reports:

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott made a special trek to Albany last week to push for the matter.

But with only about a week left in the legislative session, sources say there's been no serious discussion on the issue among state leaders.

The main education focus in the final days of the session is to find a way to limit the public release of teacher evaluations. One source said there is a "real reluctance" to complicate the negotiations by adding the perv-instructor issue to the mix.

Lawmakers in both houses admit they would prefer to avoid another battle with the unions in an election year.

And Tuesday's City Council hearing on the new special education plans that go into effect in city schools this fall left more questions than answers, as SchoolBook and Gotham Schools reported.

Gotham says:

After months of waiting to hear the results of a pilot program for the city's special education reforms, many advocates hoped they would finally get some answers today at a City Council hearing. But when Department of Education officials sat down to testify, there were few revelations.

It's not that the DOE was withholding any new information. It was just that no such data yet existed, said Laura Rodriguez, the outgoing Deputy Chancellor of Special Education.

Rodriquez said they had so far collected data for only a couple of measures – such as attendance and the rate of movement of students with special needs into general education settings – and that they hadn't focused on other key metrics. Advocates say that other important measures of success include suspension rates and parent surveys.

According to SchoolBook's Kyle Spencer, officials said that parents were supposed to be informed of the special education plans by their child's school. Were you informed? Respond to our query and help us report on the city's effectiveness at explaining these far-reaching proposals to families around the city.

Finally, is this another reason for the city to take a fresh look at the law banning cellphones and other electronic devices in school? As The New York Post reports, students at Christopher Columbus High School were devastated to learn on Tuesday that the truck that stores their cellphones during school was struck by thieves.

Hundreds of Bronx high-school students are about to start summer vacation without their precious cellphones and iPods after three armed thugs stole the gadgets yesterday from a truck that stores them for about $1 a day.

The kids, who use the ironically named Safe Mobile Storage because electronic devices are banned from school, scrambled out from Christopher Columbus HS in a panic when word of the heist spread at about 11 a.m.

"They took my iPhone and my iPod Touch," said Brandon Solas, 18, as he stood helplessly outside the truck parked down the block from his Bronxdale school.

Students, parents, teachers: What do you think of the continuing ban on cellphones in the city schools? Respond to our query below.