Attitudes have changed on physical interactions with students

To the Editor:

I have been following the case of Tod Mell. Mr. Mell pled guilty to endangering the welfare of a child and is due to be sentenced on Jan. 17. I do not know him personally, but I am interested in this case for two reasons.

The first reason is because I know people who know Tod. I have a friend who worked closely with Tod and I have a friend whose daughter had him as a fifth-grade teacher. The second reason is that I am an elementary teacher and because of this I feel close to the situation.

My two friends do not know each other. Their reaction to Tod being charged was one of total shock and disbelief. These independent reactions were so strong that it makes me wonder if something might not be right about this charge.

As an elementary teacher, I have seen how attitudes have changed regarding physical interactions with students. Twenty years ago, I would never have thought twice about giving a hug. Now I would not give a hug unless I was sure there was a credible witness to vouch that it was just a hug.

This incident allegedly happened eight or nine years ago. At that point in my teaching career, I would have still felt comfortable hugging a child. Could it be possible that this student misconstrued a simple display of affection for something else?

I understand that Mr. Mell pleaded guilty to a charge of endangering a child. In this day and age, this does not always mean that the defendant is really guilty. It could mean that the defendant is petrified of being found guilty and does not want to risk the punishment that a guilty verdict would entail.

On July 18, 2018 the National Association Criminal Defense Lawyers launched a report on the criminal justice system called “The Trail Penalty: The Sixth Amendment Right to Trial on the Verge of Extinction and How to Save It.” This report states that “Guilty pleas have replaced trials for a very simple reason individuals who choose to exercise their Sixth Amendment right to trial face exponentially higher sentences if they invoke the right to trial and lose. Faced with this choice, individuals almost uniformly surrender the right to trial rather than insist on proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Teachers work so hard and care so much. I would hate to see Mr. Mell punished for something that he did not do.

Marie Drislane

Guilderland

Editor’s note: This is similar to the letter Marie Drislane sent to Guilderland Town Court Judge John.

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