Mission Impossible

A walk in the moccasins of Cleveland Hammonds Jr.

You'll later say Joyce's investigation kept you from determining whether Washington broke the law by not reporting the allegations to authorities. Right or wrong, though, you look as if you're defending the principal's failure to take action. It doesn't look good.

The following Tuesday, school-board member Bill Haas calls for an investigation into how this could have happened in 1994. No one else comments on the idea.

But Haas has a good point, and it's a free shot for the Post, which editorially blasts board members for their "deafening silence." Again you're criticized for not releasing Beine's references and for failing to reveal why he was reinstated in 1994 after the district first learned about the lawsuits.

You're seen as circling the wagons with the school board.

And it's still getting worse. A day after announcing charges against Beine, Joyce seems to take the hardest shot at you yet.

"Joyce Says Hammonds Misstated When He Knew About Sex-Abuse Allegations," proclaims a March 30 headline. She is quoted as saying you were aware of Beine's troubles before March 19.

Your angry reply: "I don't know what she's talking about. She has the file. I'll say it again: Until last week Cleveland Hammonds Jr. didn't know anything about Beine. No reports came to my attention."

You also make comments to the media suggesting a double standard between Joyce's approach to the church and the school district. We never paid off a victim, and we never sealed any records, you say caustically. Now, this is intense.

You've managed to wind up publicly at odds with the powerful Catholic Church, the city's only daily newspaper and the city prosecutor. This has not gone well.

You and the school board have no choice but to announce an internal investigation. A Sunday Post editorial says the district can't be trusted and calls for a grand jury probe. And it has become as personal as if the whole sordid affair had taken place on your watch.

"Mr. Hammonds' attitude is disturbing," the Post writes. "Instead of firing or suspending Mr. Washington, [he] continues trying to shift blame to the Archdiocese of St. Louis."

The whole thing is out of hand. Forget about your quick action -- the one you were proud of -- to rid the district of Beine within 48 hours of hearing his name. The way this is playing in the media, it's your Beine scandal.

Adding insult to injury, the April 5 Post runs a stunning item: a correction in which the Post admits misquoting Joyce about your having been aware of Beine's case earlier.

"The quote used the word 'he' instead of 'they," the correction states. "Joyce said Wednesday that she was referring generally to school-district administrators, not to Hammonds personally."

Wow. All that friction with the circuit attorney was caused by a misquote, one the paper has publicly admitted. It isn't as if the paper is chastened, though. On the day the correction runs, the paper fires two more shots.

One is a news story, blaring at the top of the Metro section: "Beine Was Paid $11,610 to Resign From District." In the story, school-board members criticize you for not obtaining their approval for the settlement. You also look as if you rewarded a child molester.

As if that weren't enough, the paper publishes its toughest editorial yet. It concludes:

"Mr. Hammonds should be required to explain exactly what happened, why it happened and when he will put systems in place to prevent it from happening again. His job should hinge on his answers."

Post editorials don't matter much, but there's no doubt the paper is speaking for some of your school-board adversaries. Somehow this has become your scandal, and it doesn't seem to be going away. It may even endanger your job.

Beine is gone. But he hasn't been forgotten.

You're Cleveland Hammonds Jr. And you have a terrible situation on your hands.

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