Just a few weeks ago, for Peter Kosak, the head of the Catholic Schulwerk Augsburg, it was primarily a moral question: Can a person who has committed a serious offense be forgiven? A teacher who had a relationship with a 17-year-old student has been teaching at a grammar school run by the Swabian school authority in Dillingen since the summer. As a result, he lost his civil servant status and had to leave school. Schulwerk Augsburg, which operates more than 40 private schools in Swabian Bavaria, decided to give him a “second chance,” as Kosak puts it. After reports of the case in the Süddeutsche Zeitung and other media, he convened a parents’ meeting in the high school. At the end there was a vote: 97 percent of the parents expressed their confidence in the Schulwerk for the decision to continue employing the teacher. From the point of view of a Christian supporter, Kosak then said, there must always be forgiveness. The teacher was present at the parents’ evening and showed “deep, deep remorse”.
Forgive, forget? Apparently, those responsible see the situation differently now that public criticism of the school’s approach has not ceased – despite the clear vote of the parents. On Thursday afternoon, Kosak informed the high school that the teacher should no longer teach in the future. He will take up a position in the administration of the Schulwerk from March, when his annual contract as a teacher has expired. How does the turnaround come about? “This decision was made to calm the situation for everyone involved,” explains Kosak when asked.
The case has been shaking heads among experts for months. Kerstin Claus, the federal government’s commissioner on abuse, criticizes that the decision by the school board to give the teacher a second chance means that “the endangerment of children and young people is accepted”. Claus sees this as an “expression of loyalty among adults” whose interests are “placed above the best possible protection for students”. According to the abuse commissioners, it is inappropriate for the teacher’s employment to be voted on at a parents’ evening: “An educational institution should not make its child protection mandate dependent on the vote of the parents.”
This “completely trivializes what was done to young people”
Johannes Heibel, chairman of the “Initiative against violence and sexual abuse of children and young people”, considers it “an irresponsible experiment to allow a teacher who has abused a student to continue teaching”. The safety of the students must be the top priority. A young woman who, by her own admission, was seduced by a teacher when she was 16 and read about the case wrote a letter to the high school. She appealed to the management “to give us those affected a voice that says very clearly that someone who has abused their position as a teacher should never teach in a school again”. Otherwise, society is suggested “that something like this can simply be forgiven if the perpetrators only show enough remorse”. This “completely trivializes what was done to young people”.
The person concerned in this case is now studying. She was in treatment for months after meetings with the teacher, during which there was an exchange of affection and even sexual intercourse. A psychotherapist attested to her depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, her ability to perform was impaired after the attack by the teacher. Because she was worried about her Abitur at the time, she was only willing to talk to the school management about the meetings with the teacher two years later, after the last exam. The public prosecutor’s office was involved, but soon dropped their investigations – not least because the student stated at the time that the teacher had not forced her to do anything. She still sees it that way today. Nevertheless, she quarrels with how the public prosecutor’s office handled the case. The authorities assumed an amicable relationship and completely ignored their predicament. The teacher tutored and graded her in math, a subject in which she had great difficulty.
The Ministry of Education knew that the teacher should teach again
While in the eyes of the public prosecutor’s office there was no crime, the Bavarian state prosecutor’s office pushed ahead with disciplinary proceedings against the teacher in order to remove him from his service. The teacher forestalled this by renouncing his official status. From a legal point of view, there was nothing to prevent him from applying for a new job with a private institution. An employee of the Bavarian Ministry of Education even agreed conditions for the new position with the school and the teacher. He should go into therapy and no longer teach in the upper grades of the high school, but only pupils in the middle and lower grades.
The parties in the state parliament have not yet become active in the case. The education policy spokesman for the FDP, Matthias Fischbach, found nothing to complain about in the behavior of schools, authorities and the ministry based on what the media reported. The Greens generally demand that schools should have protection concepts in the future to prevent sexual violence against schoolchildren.
The fact that there was movement in the case is probably mainly due to the activities of child rights activist Johannes Heibel. Months ago, he contacted the person concerned, spoke to other former students who had had bad experiences with the teacher, urged the school board not to use the man in class, and informed those responsible in politics and the church. He is also critical of the current solution: “Why is the teacher still allowed to teach until March, why isn’t he released immediately?” Heibel suspects that the Schulwerk may just want to buy time and let the teacher go back to teaching once things have calmed down. He will continue to monitor the case.