It’s true: One sentence, one paragraph, one story can have a damaging impact on a person, a family, or a community.
It’s because of this that reporting of incidents and situations to legal authorities must be rooted in relative certainty and not mere conjecture, as the implications can be far-reaching and possibly long-lasting. It is so unfortunate that the incident involving Zane Zebrasky, my former student and friend, was turned over to legal authorities before it had been investigated thoroughly. Upon further review, it was shown that he had no connection to the bag of cocaine found in a stairwell in Washington High School other than unwittingly moving it with his shoe. Therefore, all charges were rightfully dropped.
The Observer-Reporter only reported what police turned over to them in the arrest report, but, in reading it, I doubted Zebrasky’s innocence, thinking that video is a fairly certain way of capturing evidence. I was disappointed and confused because this just didn’t fit this young man’s personality. Today, I am relieved for him, his family, and the community. Why these tapes weren’t viewed more extensively by everyone at the school, along with the police, before the arrest was made, is a concern. An individual’s reputation was at stake and I think we would all want such scrutiny. This could be a great learning opportunity for all involved, from the school authorities to the police to those of us who read stories we think are based on certain facts.
The newspaper also reported last week that a separation agreement had been struck between the Trinity Area School District and Superintendent Paul Kasunich following his DUI arrest in February. The reported facts were that nearly $37,000 had been spent on outside legal counsel and Kasunich received pay while on ordered leave. As a former teacher, I think this story may have had a very different ending had this been a teacher and not a superintendent. It may have resulted in termination, loss of salary and benefits, and there would have been no separation package. Superintendents are heavily protected under the state school code and teachers are much more vulnerable. If dismissed, a teacher usually forfeits all retirement money.
It would be interesting to find out if the same is applicable regarding principals and superintendents. The morality clause in the state school code is loosely interpreted and varies region to region in the commonwealth. This is a problem and should be redefined so all school employees, no matter what level, are held to the same standard across the state and district to district.