The Scarlet Letter

Someone penned an anonymous letter making damning allegations about Normandy High School principal Alvin Smith. He blames it on a disgruntled ex-employee out to take him down. Trouble is, some of the letter is true.

Gary Jones, director of professional conduct and investigations for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, says awareness has increased since then and that the lack of such a law hasn't stopped the state from pursuing disciplinary cases against teachers who engage in inappropriate relationships with students, even if they are 17 or 18 at the time -- cases that can result in a teaching certificate's being revoked. But the case must first be referred by a local school district before his office can get involved.

"We have that area covered, but it depends on the local school district," Jones says. "We have a moral-turpitude referral, so even though a teacher may be having a relationship with a student who is a junior or senior, 17 or 18, even though that may not be technically against the law, the school district may find out and find that is a violation of trust, and they can refer the case to us that way."

Dewey Riehn, director of the out-of-home investigative unit for the Missouri Division of Family Services, agrees allegations against teachers fall into a gray area. School personnel are mandated by law to report any abuse when they have a "reasonable suspicion" that it occurred -- but reasonable suspicion to one person may be something else to another, he says. "It's open to interpretation."

Bartman, the education commissioner, says it is up to local districts to set codes of conducts for their teachers -- and to determine when a teacher's actions have violated that code. "That's a judgment they make themselves and (voters) have got a local board of education elected by the district to represent them on education matters." If the citizens of a particular school district are satisfied with how a school board handles allegations involving a teacher, he says, "they probably will not vote those members out."

Smith is hoping that neither the letter nor the lawsuit affects his career. He wants others to view it all as the product "of a disgruntled employee out to take me down." But he is worried. "It's reliving a nightmare. I've gone through a lot before, and God has pulled me out of things like this. And I guess he says he can forgive you, but that doesn't mean you don't have to deal with the consequences of some things."

The principal is getting no sympathy from Horace Humphries, who continues to deny he authored the letter -- or even knowing who did.

"Alvin Smith feels himself drowning and feels he has to cloud the issue, and he's doing everything he can to trash Horace Humphries," Humphries says. "He has admitted whatever is in that letter. He has admitted to it and that's it, that's the name of the game."

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