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Parents: Accused Teacher Had a Good Reputation

They struggle to explain to children the absence of instructor arrested on suspicion of prostitution. 'I'm in shock,' one mother says.

October 11, 2003|David McKibben and Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writers

Parents of pupils at an Anaheim elementary school who learned Friday of a fourth-grade teacher's prostitution-related arrest struggled with how to tell their children.

"I'm really scared for my kids. I'm in shock," said Juana Solis, whose 8-year-old daughter was a student of the accused teacher. "This looked like a person who would never do something bad. I'll try my best to tell her what's going on, but I'm not sure what to say."

Anaheim police arrested Dennis William Gosnell on Wednesday evening after he allegedly agreed to perform a sex act for money with an undercover officer. The teacher came under suspicion after police learned he was advertising sex for sale on Web sites, said Anaheim Police Sgt. Rick Martinez.

Gosnell was released on $1,000 bail shortly after his arrest, and the case will be reviewed by the Anaheim city attorney's office for possible prosecution.

Many parents of children at Patrick Henry Elementary School said they learned of Gosnell's arrest when they arrived at the campus Friday and saw television news crews interviewing parents. School officials told children about the teacher's arrest Friday and sent letters to parents, said Suzi Brown, a spokeswoman for the Anaheim City School District.

Police told Anaheim school officials about Gosnell's arrest for solicitation of prostitution Thursday morning. School officials placed him on administrative leave while his students were on lunch break. A long-term substitute teacher will assume Gosnell's duties while he is on leave, Brown said.

The teacher, 32, was in his eighth year at Patrick Henry, which has more than 1,000 students. He had a good reputation and seemed to work well with children in the school's largely immigrant neighborhood, many parents said. Those perceptions made news of the arrest more troubling, parents said.

"We send our kids to school to learn, and we just don't know what we have there," said Lidia Lara, whose 13-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter had been Gosnell's students. "They should know who they're hiring. They should have done a more thorough background check." Convictions for certain crimes of "moral turpitude" can lead to automatic revocation of a teaching credential. Brown said it's not clear whether Gosnell's alleged crime would result in mandatory termination.

Ron Oliver, a professor of educational leadership at Cal State Fullerton, said he believes a teacher convicted of moonlighting as a prostitute should be terminated. "They are role models for kids and we want to make sure the role models we are providing for our kids are good, positive role models," he said.

There have been similar incidents throughout the United States in recent years. A former Berkeley schoolteacher was arrested on suspicion of prostitution in August after she allegedly agreed to have sex with an undercover Oakland police officer for $250. Shannon Williams was not a school employee at the time of her arrest so the incident did not lead to disciplinary action by the district, said Michele Lawrence, superintendent of the Berkeley Unified School District.

In Woodland Hills, the former athletic director of El Camino Real High School was reassigned to a job in which he would not have contact with children after his arrest in May on suspicion of soliciting sex from an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute. In Florida, a female schoolteacher was arrested in 2002 for allegedly operating an Internet escort service. She resigned.

Although prostitution arrests may surprise parents, it's important to remember that teachers, though trusted with society's most innocent, are fallible, officials said. "We recruit teachers from the human race," Lawrence said. "They have all the qualities and all the faults that come from human beings."

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