Following the discovery that two Miramonte Elementary School teachers, Mark Berndt and Martin Springer, allegedly engaged in lewd activity with students, Los Angeles Unified School District made the brave decision to replace all teachers and staff, with everyone being re-assigned. Predictably, there have been protests and criticism. The basic argument: it is excessive and unfair. The good teachers, whoever they were, weren’t at fault.
Yes, they were; at least, they were responsible, and share accountability for a culture they were part of. The school district’s decision correctly assumes that when two members of a relatively small teaching staff abuse young children over a long period, something is rotten at the school beyond those teachers. Oversight is lax, administrators are looking the other way, teachers are protecting colleagues or refusing to acknowledge the implications of what they see or hear. There is a substantial chance that the Miramonte Elementary School didn’t just have some proverbial bad apples, but that it had created a culture that encouraged apples to go bad. There can be no certainty that Berndt and Springer were the only abusers on the staff, and the safety of children is at stake. Clear out the school, and wipe out the culture; have new personnel from top to bottom. It is easier to start over with a rotten culture than to try to fix it: this was God’s attitude in the Old Testament, and He had a point. The difference is that He killed off corrupt cultures with floods and fire, or just made them wander in the desert for generations. Luckily, this isn’t Congress, Wall Street, Hollywood, or Rupert Murdoch’s empire. You can start all over with a school.
I am assuming that the clean sweep includes administrators, and every one of those teachers and staff who have been transferred have to be watched closely. Cultures can be corrupted by single individuals if they are charming, persuasive and clever: we don’t know whether the Typhoid Mary of this situation has just been sent to a new place to infect. The district must investigate everyone involved thoroughly and also review its own procedures, for this nest of corruption was built under its faulty eye.
The Old Testament treatment is an oldie but a goodie when it comes to fixing broken cultures, and it should be used more often. There have been other examples–disgraced accounting firm Arthur Andersen is one of them. When an organization or institution persistently generates outrageously unethical conduct, starting all over from scratch can be the best approach. And the staff members thus displaced should read about Moses, Noah, Lot and the rest and feel fortunate rather than mistreated, for it could be a lot worse. God could get involved, and it wouldn’t be pretty.