Gazette opinion: 1 child is lost, the rest must be protected

2010-07-20T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: 1 child is lost, the rest must be protected The Billings Gazette
July 20, 2010 12:00 am

Stacey Rambold must never teach again.

The school system failed to protect a 14-year-old girl from Rambold’s sexual assaults, according to credible evidence that led Rambold to surrender his teaching license two years ago under pressure from School District 2. The justice system has failed to obtain a criminal conviction.

According to an agreement signed last week by the Rambold, his attorney and Chief Deputy County Attorney Rod Souza, there will be no prosecution of the former Senior High teacher if he gets sex offender treatment and follows other agreement requirements for three years.

This isn’t justice in a case that was filed in November 2008 as three counts of rape. The attacks were alleged to have occurred in Rambold’s vehicle, in his home and in his school office in late 2007 when the girl was 14 and were reported to school and police authorities in April 2008.

Victim suicide

In February of this year, the girl committed suicide. Whatever other troubles this young woman may have had, her victimization by a high school teacher surely added to her burden. Her death also made Rambold’s prosecution virtually impossible because the key witness against him could no longer testify. By law, victim and witness statements made prior to trial can’t be admitted unless that person is available to testify at the trial. Thus, the agreement that he will get treatment may be the best outcome available.

It’s critical that Rambold never again has authority over children. Can that be guaranteed?

The National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification maintains a clearinghouse of information on teachers whose licenses have been surrendered, suspended or revoked. All 50 states participate in the clearinghouse, according to executive director Roy Einreinhofer. Entries to the national data base are retained permanently, Einreinhofer said.

A check of Stacey Rambold in the national database would show “license surrendered based on sexual misconduct,” said Jessica Rhoades, spokeswoman for the Montana Office of Public Instruction in Helena. If Rambold ever applied for a teaching job in any state, that state’s agency could access the license surrender entry and relay the information to an inquiring school district.

“If anyone called us, we would be able to tell them everything that is in the public record,” Rhoades said. That includes the fact that three rape charges were filed, that prosecution was deferred and basically anything that has been reported in The Billings Gazette.

Zero-tolerance rule

Certainly, a database check should be mandatory in hiring a new teacher. But Rambold had been at Senior High for  years and served as adviser to its business student club. According to court records, he had been warned by the principal in in 2004 to keep his “hands off all students” after he was accused of touching female students and entering a girls locker room unannounced. A former Senior High student told investigators that Rambold was caught looking in a motel window at female students as they were changing clothes on a school business club trip. Other teachers told investigators about requests from Rambold to send the girl to his office when she was supposed to be in another class or in detention.

There were warning signs that weren’t taken seriously enough to stop the victimization of one child. Nothing can be done to help her now. Billings Public Schools must increase its efforts to keep all other students safe. The district should have zero tolerance for staff member sexual misconduct involving students.

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