How could it have happened?
Why did the Coeur d’Alene School District allow a middle-school teacher to instruct after he’d admitted to others in 1989 he’d had sex with a student from a nearby town?
Have school trustees and administrators become so paralyzed by fear of teachers unions and lawsuits that they no longer protect impressionable children?
Questions like these swirled around Coeur d’Alene last week after Paul Mather, 49, a social studies teacher and Coeur d’Alene High baseball coach, was charged with molesting students. Five girls, ages 13 and 14, claim he fondled them this year.
The shocked parent of one of them spoke for many: “I can’t believe the school district, knowing what they know, continued to allow him to teach young girls.”
What did the district know?
According to police reports:
In 1989, a 16-year-old told Coeur d’Alene schools attorney Charles Dodson, her principal and her mother, that she and Mather had intercourse. They’d met while attending group therapy for alcohol and drug abuse.
Mather admitted to his wife and a female friend that he’d had sex with the girl. He said the girl had pursued him.
Ultimately, the Kootenai County Prosecutor’s Office declined to file rape charges because the girl wouldn’t testify. The girl’s family feared the pressure of a trial might push her back into a drug habit.
Still, school officials could have fired Mather for the breach of ethics or asked for a Department of Education investigation that could have ended his teaching career.
They did neither.
Instead, after a closed-door meeting involving Coeur d’Alene trustees, the district sent Mather a letter stating the rape allegation was unfounded. Five years later, a new board of trustees selected Mather as the Coeur d’Alene High varsity baseball coach, an increased position of authority over youngsters.
Now, five girls - three of whom were Mather’s aides - allege he touched their buttocks and breasts while hugging and massaging them. One told investigators she tried to thwart Mather’s advances by wearing a backpack. Another changed her mind about being a teacher’s aide.
One of the five, according to her angry mother, “views men in a different light now. Now, she’s on the guard instead of being an innocent kid like she’s supposed to be.”
If the allegations are true, Mather faces a possible prison term of 35 years.
If the allegations are true, Coeur d’Alene school officials put the girls in harm’s way.
If the allegations are true, Coeur d’Alene residents should wonder: How many other problem teachers are school officials protecting?
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