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Then again, the Associated Press investigation found that only one in ten victims of teacher-student abuse actually report it.
Patterns emerged in the AP study: accused teachers were often popular. The teacher often seemed more comfortable around young people than adults. The sexual relationships often began with the teacher complimenting students.
Of cases that end in convictions, punishment varies tremendously, from probation to long prison sentences. Although some offenses are punishable by life (like federal charges of crossing state lines to have sex with a minor), teachers are rarely sentenced so harshly. Locally, when Josephus Eggelletion — now Broward County commissioner — was found to have fathered a child by his then-14-year-old student, he wasn't even required to pay child support.
Long-term effects on both accusers and the accused have varied greatly as well. Some cases have led to suicide and depression; others, to marriage. Letourneau had two children by her former student and wed him in 2005 after serving more than seven years in prison.
Alumni who graduated from Santaluces in 1991 remember gossip that then-biology teacher Rick Aiello divorced his wife (the school's physics teacher) and began dating a former student. The couple may have figured out how to successfully navigate teacher-student attraction: He was not accused of criminal activity, and the couple is now married with four children. (Aiello did not respond to a request for comment.)
Palm Beach County School Board spokesperson Nat Harrington says "what happens in schools is a reflection of what happens in society. The School District is under scrutiny — and because we have people's children here, we should be." Regardless of the numbers, Harrington says, "this kind of heinous behavior and sexual immorality is appalling." He had little concern that accusations might drive some male teachers away from the profession: "There are lots of male teachers who do not cross the line."
Right now, Harrington is calling the Foster case "a huge wake-up call." In some similar cases, however, victims' families have filed civil lawsuits against school boards, citing negligence. Settlements or adverse judgments can cost districts big bucks; those expenses, and legal fees, all trickle down, and taxpayers eventually foot the bill. While sources say there is currently no indication that Foster's ex-students plan to sue, the School Board has had to fend off accusations that it did not screen Foster properly at hiring, and that it ignored warning signs. Prior rumors of Foster's inappropriate contact with students all proved unsubstantiated.
After Foster's arrest, police did find one former student who said Foster once kissed her in a janitor's closet. Mintus also received a call from an Indiana woman who claimed Foster had once touched her inappropriately. Since incident reports had not been filed to support those allegations, Harrington says, the School Board could not have foreseen future problems. "If anyone can predict behavior of another human being we would like to know," he says. "We'd be instant billionaires."
What about a policy that would prevent a teacher from being alone with a student, or prevent him from having kids hang out at his bachelor pad? Not possible, Harrington says, because numerous legitimate situations take place outside of class: "band, athletics, field trips — most are completely above board." He said that teachers are held to ethical behavior by signing a code of conduct.
Some observers feel that D.N.'s case is particularly traumatic, because the teenager had to deal with the consequences of an unintended pregnancy. Assuming that she came up through the Palm Beach County school system, would D.N. have had exposure to sex education classes? "Yes," said Harrington. "We teach an abstinence-based curriculum. It stresses abstinence — and gives some information on contraception."
A close look at the "human development" curriculum reveals that, in line with a 1990 Florida law, it teaches "abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard of all school-age children." One handout says that "girls... are expected to abstain from sexual relations until marriage at 21 or 22." The curriculum includes statistics from the 1980s — before today's high school seniors were even born. As an indication of the course's up-to-date applicability, it calls for students to watch a movie about teenage sexuality — on laser disc.
Santaluces looks more like a prison than a school. The cream-colored one-story building, built in the mid-1980s, has just a few small windows. A chain link fence surrounds the entire treeless campus. Just before dismissal on a Friday afternoon, idling yellow buses spew exhaust into the steamy air. Deans patrol the grounds in golf carts, cradling walkie-talkies like weapons.
The name suggests it might be a Catholic school, but Santaluces is actually named after an indigenous tribe that inhabited South Florida circa 1600. Students here come from working class homes. About 50 percent of them are white. The football team makes the papers. The band is a big deal. A new performing arts center was recently built, but overall, it's a C-rated school.
With the ring of the bell, students spill outdoors. Plenty of them have had Foster as their teacher. Of ten or so who wanted to comment, every one seemed to feel that the blame for the incident should be shared by both teacher and student.