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The Shelby County school board in Birmingham, Alabama, is being forced to defend its decision to reinstate 4th grade teacher Danny Acker (pictured), after he was accused of molesting a student nearly 20 years ago.  Now that the man is behind bars for doing the same thing to countless other children, the board’s feet are being held to the fire.

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In 1993, the school board agreed 5-0 to return Acker to the classroom after the molestation allegation, because in the original hearing, there were no witnesses or physical evidence and the alleged abuse occurred during babysitting, rather than during Acker’s teaching duties.  School board Vice President Steve Martin also says that there were numerous students who turned out as character witnesses for Acker, which led to him being reinstated.  It also shouldn’t be left out that at the time, Acker’s father was the county commissioner. School board President Lee Doebler adds:

Looking back, given the evidence we had I would have made the same vote,” Doebler said to the Associated Press. “I wish we had some evidence, but unfortunately, we didn’t.”

After 25 years in the school system, now Acker is being accused of molesting two females under the age of 12.  In addition to four counts of first-degree sexual abuse, Acker has admitted to molesting more than 21 young girls throughout his career.

Columbia University Education Professor Marc Lamont Hill says that our nation’s habit of avoiding conversations on sexual abuse could be the problem:

A school’s primary responsibility is to educate and protect it’s children,” said Dr. Hill, who is the author of the book, “The Classroom and The Cell.” The problem is that our nation has a long history of silence sexual abuse.  As a result, we end up being protective.

The hope is that in the future, we take a more proactive approach to sexual misconduct. Imagine if we had the same vigor when pursuing sex abuse cases that we have toward keeping black kids from bringing weapons to school? We’d take huge steps to avoiding situations like this one.”

This unfortunate situation in Alabama is a reminder that no matter how well we think we know a person, you almost never know the tip of the iceberg when it comes to that individual’s sexuality.  Sexual preferences and desires are the kinds of things that most human beings keep deep within their psyches, almost never allowing these matters to hit the light of day within their social circles.  So the kind, friendly person you know down the street might be a sexual deviant without giving so much as a hint to what lies beneath.

The people of this community were mistaken in their decision to jump forward to defend Ackerman, as if there were no chance he could have committed this crime.  The ability to say that you know someone as a relatively decent human being is very different from being able to confidently say that the person could never have committed a particular sex act.  I also doubt that his father being county commissioner went unnoticed during the proceedings.

As a result of the negligence of the board and this community, a child predator has been on the loose for another 18 years, doing irreparable harm to a multitude of students.  Had the board even taken the precautionary measure of reinstating Ackerman to a different set of responsibilities, there is a chance that he may not have been able to so easily gain the trust of fourth grade girls.  There is enough blame to go around, and this situation could have been avoided.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.


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