Jon White, Randy DeJaynes, James Love: They’re all teachers accused of sexually abusing their students. All of them men.
Ken Paxton is the interim principal at Thomas Paine in Urbana. He took over when the school’s principal was put on leave after the Jon White case broke open. He says it forced every male teacher to take a closer look at how they act. Paxton says, “You tend to be hyperaware of what you do and what you say to make sure that anything you say, any action is above reproach.”
For first year teacher Kyle Sondgeroth, it means watching his every move at Bottenfield Elementary in Champaign. He says, “you always have to keep in mind that you’re a man working with young children, and you have to really remain aware of the situation that you’re in.” He says if he wants to see a student after school, he leaves the door open, the lights on, tells others teachers and makes sure the parents know. And it’s never one on one.
Sondgeroth says, “You have to take these steps and these measures to ensure that nothing like this would ever happen again in your community.” Another step: not hugging your students and Sondgeroth says it’s a double standard. He says, “Women in education are allowed to show that physical display of emotion where as men typically are much more afraid to show that.”
But what happens when you have no choice? Frank Modica works with autistic children at Thomas Paine, and physical contact is part of the job. He says, “Children act out because they want physical contact, they want pressure, they want someone to hold them.” When White was charged, Modica held parent conferences making sure parents knew what was happening in class. Modica says, “These are the ways that I as a person engage with the students. Are you comfortable with that? Are you comfortable with me hugging a student?” They were, and Modica says he won’t change how he’s taught for almost thirty years.
For other men, there is an unspoken wall reinforced by the acts of others. Paxton says, “You know what type of teacher you want to be, and in a situation like this, you realize that you may not be able to do that. To me, that’s very sad.”