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Jeb Bladine: Abuses spawned in permissive times

We can’t be absolutely sure about the allegations of sexual relations between a McMinnville teacher and a 15-16-year-old student back in 1994-95. But we can be certain about the following:

Boundaries were crossed, and 20 years later, a respected McMinnville High School administrator resigned abruptly in the face of those allegations.

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Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

> See his column

A permissive culture in the 1990s spawned a local epidemic of terribly inappropriate relationships between adults and teenage students. In every case, people who knew about reckless behavior failed to step in — failed to step up — to protect those youth.

We want nothing more than to believe those times are behind us ... but we can’t be absolutely sure.

Last week, we repeated the heartfelt response from McMinnville schools Superintendent Maryalice Russell, who said, “There’s nothing more important to the district than the safety and well-being of children.”

As reported in that story, “Teachers and other staff members go through extensive training, covering everything from playground safety to dealing with potential gun violence. Annually, they are trained in the mandatory reporting law, which requires educational staff members to report suspicions of child abuse or sexual abuse that may have occurred both on and off school property … If the allegation involves a school employee, the district also investigates — either after the police or DHS inquiry, or simultaneously.”

Returning to the 1990s, we also know:

There were official inquiries in 1995 and 1996 into allegations of misconduct involving that teacher and student. Those cases were closed, and the records have been destroyed.

The previous year had produced McMinnville’s most notorious case of adult-student sexual relations. Everyone in the district should have been on high alert in 1994-95, but some of them obviously were dozing on duty.

Several years later, other McMinnville teachers were implicated in similar accusations, and one of them ultimately drew a prison sentence for his actions.

That was long ago. Hopefully, people in the school system and the community are more vigilant today when it comes to such scandalous activities. But people sometimes don’t see what’s in front of their eyes, and people sometimes just don’t want to believe what they see.

Recently, a less aggravated but still disturbing case of inappropriate adult-student contact nearly erupted publicly at two nearby school districts. It was a reminder that human failings are just as real today as they were 20 years ago.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 502-687-1223.

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