The Eventual Firing of Daniel Picca: Why Our Children Are Not Safe In Public School

Wait…is that a CHILD’S hand?

Today, in a scathing editorial, the Washington Post related the shocking story of the firing of Daniel Picca, a Montgomery County, Maryland  elementary school teacher who was suspected by school officials of having inappropriate relations with male students since at least 1995. This was, said the Post, ” a stinging indictment of a school bureaucracy that for almost two decades believed it had a problem but reacted with a seemingly endless flow of ineffective warnings, letters, reprimands and — most appalling — reassignments of the teacher to other schools and other students.” Montgomery County, it should be noted, boasts of one of the finest public school systems in the nation….or so we have been told.

Picca, as was detailed by a hearing examiner  in 2010 and by an administrative law judge this year, had been warned for 17 years about his conduct with young boys, including inappropriate touching, having students sit on his lap, “wrestling” with the boys and inviting some to an extracurricular “Strong Boys Club” of his own invention, where he encouraged male students to remove their shirts, according to student testimony. In 1995, county child protective services  said that Picca was responsible for “indicated child abuse.”The school system now says it missed this, somehow—not that it didn’t have plenty of evidence already.

“The evidence is overwhelming,” Administrative Law Judge David Hofstetter concluded in his July ruling upheld last week by the state board, that Picca “engaged in a pattern of conduct over many years which was reckless, brazen, unjustified and, most importantly, of grave potential harm to his students.” The Post quotes the letter Jerry D. Weast, then the Mongomery County School Superintendent sent to  Picca in February of 2000, instructing him to cease “bodybuilding”-type activities with students or have contact with them outside the classroom. “When confronted with such obvious inappropriate behaviors on the part of a teacher toward his students,”  the State Education Board wrote last week in finally approving Picca’s dismissal, shouldn’t parents be able to assume “that the teacher will be removed from contact with students with alacrity?”

Why, no, in fact they shouldn’t assume that. This is because school bureaucracies in Montgomery County and elsewhere are so obsessed with paper work, procedures, appeals, avoiding law suits and averting union protests, and so deficient in communication, follow-through, competence, and courage, that not only incompetent educators, but dangerous ones, can linger in the system, earning scarce taxpayer funds, undermining students’ education and well-being, and in cases like Picca’s, preying on children for months, years and even decades.

That is why our sons and daughters are not safe in the public schools.

Aside: Anyone who identifies the similarity between this behavior by school systems and the international handling of such global outlaws as Syria and Iran goes to the head of the class.

____________________________

Facts: Washington Post

Graphic: The View From My Porch

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

27 Comments

Filed under Education, U.S. Society

27 responses to “The Eventual Firing of Daniel Picca: Why Our Children Are Not Safe In Public School

  1. michael

    Actually, I was noticing the similarity to the Catholic church scandal and the more recent Boy Scouts scandal.

  2. Mr. Picca, in a telephone conversation with us, labeled as false any allegation that he did anything improper. He noted that — despite investigation by police and the state’s attorney in 1995 — he has never been charged with a crime.

    Of course, what Mr. Picca does not say is that schools have higher standards of conduct for its teachers than criminal law- and rightfully so.

    • Yes, imagine: a teacher who shows all the signs of being a sexual predator really thinks that he has to be caught in a crime before responsible administrators remove him from his job.

  3. Why would any responsible citizen expect a school district to fire or otherwise censor the Daniel Picca’s of this world? School districts don’t exist for children, they exist to provide unions with employment opportunities for their members. Admittedly, when the Picca’s come along districts are forced to spend a little time working on news management techniques, but other than that “It’s All Good”.

  4. Shelly Stow

    I have no idea where the truth lies in regard to this specific situation, but I have a problem with your analysis for a couple of reasons.

    False accusations based on “overwhelming evidence” have, on more than one occasion, ruined lives and reputations and even resulted in convictions in situations where the accusers later admitted they lied. Teachers are in a uniquely vulnerable position for this potential.

    It is not unknown for school administration, wanting to “get rid” of a teacher, to manufacture doubt, rumors, and even “evidence.”

    There is that pesky little concept of innocent until proven guilty.

    • That pesky little concept has nothing to do with the issue at hand.
      Few standards are more misunderstood and badly used, and this is an example. IUPG includes the kicker, “in teh eyes of the law,” which only means that we try criminals in court before we convict them and put them in prison. It doesn’t mean that we have to date O.J. Simpson or make Casey Anthony our baby-sitter. Nobody has charged this ex-teacher with anything. But his record of inappropriate conduct at multiple schools IS a matter of record, and he was warned and admonished many times.

      Furthermore, in an employment context, he WAS “proven guilty.” the point is that it took a ridiculous number of years with an inexcusable number of kids placed at risk before it resulted in his firing.You can’t use “false accusations” as a universal defense when there is credible evidence of misconduct at multiple schools, and Picca’s case was investigated and examined by a judge, who blew his top. You don’t stand trial to keep your job—his conduct was proven, under the system established.

      You don’t “know” whether a man should be teaching who has literally dozens of warnings, admonitions, letters, etc,. detailing eye-witness accounts and victim reports over 17 years regarding physical contact with elementary school students? Wow. No teacher has any business holding non-school approved “clubs” outside of school, period, never mind “Do you like movies about gladiators?”—style clubs that involve partial nudity. ONE episode, warning; second confirmed episode, BYE.

      I’m sorry: this is an easy call.

      • Shelly Stow

        I can accept your admonitions except in one instance. I did not say that I “don’t ‘know’ whether a man should be teaching who has literally dozens of warnings….” I said that I didn’t know where the truth lies in this situation. I have learned, and I am sure that you have to, that something can look so black and white, cut and dried, and turn out to be neither.

        • Yes, but what do you mean by that here? You know enough, don’t you? The school administrators knew enough long before 2011, don’t you think? I may add the “things aren’t black and white” line to the Rationalizations list. The question is whether the key facts are black and white. If he had boys sit on his lap, invited kids to his own proper after school and had them take off their shirts, and engaged in inappropriate touching, I don’t really care about the grays—they are a distraction and an an excuse not to do anything at all. Insisting that we know everything before is too often an excuse not to act. The truth lies here: the man shouldn’t be teaching kids. The rest is trivia.

          • Curmudgeon

            CHILDREN ARE VULNERABLE. In a scale of prioities, between the employment RIGHTS of a suspected teacher, or the SAFETY of children, children come first. If the teacher feels he has been foully dealt with, he can always file a CIVIL suit — maybe even get his union to help him. Children don’t have as many resources — they wouldn’t even know where to begin.

            • In a scale of prioities, between the employment RIGHTS of a suspected teacher, or the SAFETY of children, children come first.

              Only up to a point.

              Surely we do not want teachers fired merely on the basis of rumors.

  5. Lianne Best

    Jack, Jack … “Why Our Children Are Not Safe In Public School” is an over the top headline. I understand that you have chosen not to educate your child in the public school system, and you have reasons for that, but your experience and the Picca situation and even the Ricks issue in my own local Manassas City Public Schools by no means warrant an absolute “not safe in public school” description. I am not saying all public schools are 100% free from risk, in the thousands of areas in which children can be harmed or subjected to negative influence, but that neither are all schools dangerous. My own kids have thrived, and learned, and matured, and grown in public schools, and I am immensely grateful to have had a resource-filled system to support them. By no means could I have educated either of them to the level our public school system did, and frankly I find the local private schools and homeschool network to be insufficient in offering children exposure to diversity – demographic and curricular. If you look, there’s no doubt in my mind that you will find pedophiles and thieves in those alternate educational environments: but the numbers of people involved are fewer, and the organizations are private, so news doesn’t get out. Let’s just have some balance, please!

    • Lianne: If 911, even once, takes an hour to answer my call, I don’t consider it a safe system. Agree? If the fire department…even once…never makes it to my home, I don’t consider that system sufficiently protective of my family’s welfare. And if an entire school system, a rich and honored one, lets a guy like this move from school to school for 17 years, placing children at risk, then I’m sorry, but our children are not sufficiently safe, because such a system is inexcusable, and “safe” means “as safe as reasonably possible.”

      Isn’t your argument in this context a little like arguing that a kid’s drowning at a municipal pool because the lifeguards weren’t watching—after they had been warned about that—doesn’t prove the pool isn’t safe? “My kids never drowned there, this hasn’t happened but this once in 20 years; its the best place to swim, etc.” Are you really prepared to say that the pool is and was sufficiently safe?

      I’ll ask you this: Was our airport security before 9-11 safe?

      • Curmudgeon

        Nowhere in the world is 100% safe — pedophile priests, public school teachers, Scoutmasters — on and on and on — drunk drivers?. It’s not even 100% safe for a kid to walk to school alone. It’s no wonder Francis Bacon defined having children as giving “hostages to fortune”.

        Nevertheless, the joy and wonder of my child, a “gift of fortune”, fills me with gratitude. Perhaps that’s selfish of me — maybe ‘twould be better had she never been born? A thousand times NO.

  6. Danielle

    This kind of thing has been happening forever and I never felt unsafe in public school. Despite the high school biology teacher my older sister warned me about, who liked to brush up against the girls or lean over them from behind to look down their shirts. Yes, we could have complained but it would only have made our immediate situation worse. Instead, at best, you learned to avoid putting yourself in a situation where he could breathe down the back of your neck and walked wide in the hallways. At worst, you tolerated the occasional peek he got and were slightly grateful that his goal wasn’t to cop a feel. In the end, he did teach me something. He taught me how to recognize the football player that offered a ride home at 15 only to drive out of town and insist on “cock or walk” in the days before cell phones. He taught me how to handle my first boss who was strikingly similar to the biology teacher. What that boss didn’t know, that I did, is that society gives girls a lot of opportunity to develop skills to deal with these kinds of men and I wasn’t going to be in his secretaries chair for long. What he knew, that I didn’t then, is that the boardroom was going to be exactly the same. These men are everywhere. No reason to think they are not still in schools today and no reason to think they won’t still be in schools tomorrow. For example, from the online chatter, it would seem the principle who fired Picca is not any better than Picca himself was. At least as far as the female teachers and kids he takes into the closet with him are concerned.

    • Yes, but—point? Surely you are not arguing that it is GOOD to let children learn to cope with predators, and let the chips fall where they may. And the conduct of the principal who (finally) fired Picca is 100% irrelevant to the fact that he had to be fired.

      • Danielle

        My point was that public schools are safe.

        • But, you see, this story shows how they are not. You can’t be safe in a system where nobody is seriously looking out for safety, and the system is slow to respond when it senses danger. How can that be safe? And you suggest that the system is so riddled with corruption that the principal is an offender. How is THAT safe?

  7. Shelly Stow

    Jack, one school district was slow to respond. If everything you say is accurate, and I don’t actually doubt that it is, then shame on them. That is one district, right, or am I missing something? I am aware of other districts in different states who took the opposite approach; one unfounded accusation and the teachers were escorted out the door without being allowed to even gather possessions at that point in time. And in several cases, by the time the students confessed to lying, the damage was done and the teachers’ reputations were in shreds–the “where there is smoke, there’s fire” syndrome.
    Aren’t you blanket-indicting the public school system in general based on the action–or inaction–of one district?

  8. Jack, I wish you would have done your homework. The Post (or better yet The Repost) merely joined the bandwagon against Picca without investigating. The parents of the boy from April 2010 are the teacher’s staunchest supporters. They started a website with all of the evidence Picca never got to present at the local or state level, including the email below.

    http://savekmes.org/SchaubToBresler.shtml

    Seems as if MCPS knew all about the CPS investigation back in the 90′s. Superintendent Weast was to be shielded/protected from involvement. He did his own investigation of Picca and in 2000 his own “forced reprimand:” said there was no wrongoing from the 90′s and placed him in Kemp Mill ES without hesitation.

    “Set him up to take him out without having to rely on reluctant witnesses.” If that is not targeting, I don’t what is.

    In this post-Sandusky hypersensitivity, it is so easy to brutalize an innocent man. Picca was swept away by a deranged principal who is being sued for nine figures on all of the issues Picca tried to raise in his role as the school’s union rep.

    http://www.wusa9.com/news/maryland/article/197780/189/Teachers-File-Civil-Suit-Against-Principal-Board

    Hopefully those brave teachers get every penny in Judge Rubin’s Mont County courtroom. And hopefully, Picca is right behind them and able to do the same. And hopefully, you fully get your facts straight before smearing someone whose case you only know one side of.

    • To the contrary, the Post accurately reported the record of the results of an investigation and an administrative judge’s findings arising out of them. You have your own agenda, and that’s fine, but it has little bearing on a teacher who somehow managed to accumulate testimony and accusations in more than one school. The alleged transgressions of one principal involved diminishes the persuasiveness of this not one bit.

      • The Post is in the back pocket of the Montgomery County Public Schools. To think, as the editorial states, that the school system didn’t know about the CPS classification, that a principal from one school to the next doesn’t get the teacher’s personnel file, that reprimands are not part of the formal evaluation process, that Picca wanted to resign/retire (when he obviously fought it throughout the process), etc. is pure folly Jack.

        Do you honestly think Floyd Starnes is the only deranged principal in MCPS? Looks like Picca was an outspoken union leader who was silenced by a 17-year claim that held no weight then in MCPS eyes but suddenly today (the post-Sandusky era) does.

        Picca was a whistleblower plain and simple. Silenced like so many others have. Only this time, the truth will get out.

        http://www.wusa9.com/assetpool/documents/120320123205_KempMillLawsuit.pdf

        Luckily, Freeh didn’t ignore the hidden emails in the Sandusky scandal. You choose to ignore the 2000 email. Ignorance is bliss. And an online publication looking to generate views at the price of innocents is dangerous.

        • The e-mails didn’t prove Sanduskey was framed. To the contrary. How does that apply to your theory in any way?
          Your conspiracy requires us to believe that the Post, the County and the courts are in cahoots. I doubt it.

  9. Michael

    Dan Picca was my landlord for 9 months, and I definitely believe he is guilty of all charges of child molestation. He has a lot of suspicious photos on his PC, as I’ve used his computer to print and fax on multiple occasions. He’s fake, manipulative, selfish and just plain disgusting. One of the most heartless people I’ve ever met. All he cares about is himself. I’m ashamed of myself for having ever been associated with the man.

  10. Sergio Madrid

    As a former student, this is all true. I was too young to know it back then, but this man is a calculating monster. Reading this story does not surprise me one bit.

    Back in the day (early 90′s – Rachel Carson Elementary), he had kids from my neighborhood help him come clean his classroom and we did challenges for candy. He had a closet FULL of candy. I can reflect that his “Picca Magical Dollars” was an excellent motivator in the classroom – it was also my neighborhood’s downfall for young boys at the time. The magical bucks were used to buy candy on Fridays (if we chose to spend our money) and that candy was the bait for young boys. We were too young to even know. After school, we would clean his classroom and he would have me sit on his lap. He would have me flex and he squeezed my muscles. I do remember one incident where he squeezed and did not let go. I squirmed in agony and would back and head butt him – busted his lip and he got up and yelled at me to leave his room and go home.

    Too bad I’m late. I really wish I would have stepped up on this man. He IS a monster and let me tell you …. he single-handedly destroyed all my African American and Latino friends in 5th grade with his malicious words and style. They were targets from day one and NEVER recovered to be successful students in school. I still remember all this some 20-25 years later.

    Although I do not know where he currently is, keep this man away from ANY schools with young children. If one person reads this – please understand it’s very real and true. I didn’t hide my real name. He was my 5th grade teacher. Real shame and sad to read these articles.

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