The tough part about writing stuff down, instead of just saying it, is that when you write it down the words tend to hang around.
Writers have to be aware that unlike, say, the radio business, our words are kept as a record that allows endless comparison, forward and back, to everything else we write.
The controversy over the school system failing to notify the police about claims that a substitute teacher improperly touched students took me back three years to comments that I made defending the system and warning against hysteria.
Back then, a certain local radio talk-show host, who shall remain nameless because it drives him nuts when we don't put his name in the paper, was trying to get parents whipped into a frenzy of fear because of off-campus molestation charges involving a 12-year-old boy and his 5-year-old victim. (His actual words: "I want everyone to panic."
I didn't then, and don't now, believe in using hysteria as a motivational tool, though I understand the accusers at the Salem witch trials were pretty successful with it. The U.S. Senate recently apologized for our nation's history of lynching, though under different circumstances they could celebrate it as a shining example of the success of mob motivation.
But the mob can't be motivated without something to get them angry in the first place, and ultimately the best defense against such mass hysteria is doing things right.
That's what brings me to my words from 2003: "Our children are safe in Columbia County schools. Those schools are operated by professionals who are taught to recognize the signs of victimization, and are required by law to report it."
I have a lot of confidence in our school system and its officials - heck, I'm married to one. So my comments from 2003, while irritating Mr. Radio Guy enough that he brought them up again this past week, certainly didn't seem like going out on a limb.
Yet now we find that multiple children at two different elementary schools reported that a substitute teacher touched them improperly, and no one in the school system reported it to the police until weeks later.
It's bad enough that this episode gives rope to the lynch mob, but it also has left defenders of the public schools hanging.
I still have a lot of confidence in the school system, and believe our children are safe in Columbia County schools. Yet how in the world do you reassure skeptical parents that the schools are safe when some staffers failed to follow the law and report possible abuse to police?
One thing public schools do badly is keeping a lid on negative news, though Lord knows they try. We all chuckled this past year when we found out Richmond County was fudging its SAT score. Yet the joke is on us when we find out two veteran Columbia County principals, evidently at the direction of veteran central office staff, didn't call the cops when young girls said they'd been groped.
I understand Richmond County trying to protect its academic image, or lack thereof. But just what, you have to wonder, were these Columbia County principals protecting?
Maybe they just didn't want to let me down after I stood up for them.
Bureaucracies have a self-preservation instinct that encourages its members to hide negative information, and when hiding it fails, relies on a butt-covering impulse that pushes the responsibility or blame onto someone else. By belatedly reporting these claims of abuse to police, Columbia County administrators have neither kept this under the rug nor covered their rears.
I don't know what the outcome of all this will be, but I do know that the entire school system had better hope the globe-trotting substitute comes up clean.
The lynch mob doesn't need any more rope.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.