Sex assault fallout casualty

Guidance Counsellor suspended indefinitely for failing to act on reports by students

BY SUNDAY OBSERVER
INVESTIGATORS

Sunday, May 27, 2018

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THE senior guidance counsellor at a high school in western Jamaica is the first casualty of the saga of the convicted sex offender who ended up teaching at the institution for near eight months.

The guidance counsellor was sent on indefinite suspension recently, after it emerged that she did not act to protect children at the school who had reported that the sex offender had made inappropriate advances toward them.

According to a Ministry of Education, Youth and Information official who confirmed the suspension of the guidance counsellor, the acting principal of the school also has some relevant questions to answer regarding the stewardship of the co-educational institution.

The Child Protection & Family Services Agency (CPFSA) confirmed to the Jamaica Observer on Friday that it also played a role in the matter of detection and removal of sex offender Robert Seaga-Johnson, who was registered in the Jamaican school as Sylvester Johnson — a teacher of English who had been convicted by a United States court for sexual assault of a male student.

The CPFSA said in an emailed response to the Sunday Observer that the matter was still being dealt with by its officers.

“On April 20, 2018, the CPFSA received an anonymous call about the matter in question. Research was conducted by Investigations team and confirmation was received from the (name of school withheld) that the teacher was employed at the school.

“Our team further informed school representative of the allegations against the teacher and that there is online information available, confirming these allegations,” the CPFSA stated in response to the question of whether or not it knew of the specific situation.

The child protection agency suggested that it also played a part in having the offender scratched from the school's register.

“In our discussions with the school, and based on suspicions with the use of an incorrect name, our Investigator informed that the matter would be escalated to the Office of the Children's Advocate. We went further in outlining that based on the information obtained, the children at the school are at risk and there is potentially a repeat of the offence. Our conclusion was that the teacher be removed from the school,” the CPFSA statement said, adding that although it did not lodge an official complaint to the Ministry of Education, there was continuing dialogue between the two.

“Our communication to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information is ongoing. With that said, all incidents involving children are communicated to the relevant personnel,” the CPFSA statement read.

Johnson, whose true identity was revealed weeks ago was sent to jail for 45 days for sexual assault of the male student at a school in Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA. He was convicted in September 2016 for the offence which occurred in March, 2016.

Johnson, now 45, returned to Jamaica after his sentence and worked at a hotel in western Jamaica where at least one former worker complained to the Sunday Observer that he had made inappropriate approaches at him and was dismissed after he complained. Johnson later landed the teaching job at the western Jamaica institution last September, substituting for a teacher who was on vacation leave for four months. His time was further extended in January when another teacher at the school also went on leave.

It later emerged that male students at the school had lodged verbal complaints to the senior guidance counsellor that Johnson had approached them inappropriately, but they were not acted upon, which infuriated officials of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information when the certain disclosures were made.

“That guidance counsellor failed to do what she was employed to do,” one senior education official told the Sunday Observer. “Bluntly, she should have been fired, not suspended indefinitely, but then there is a process, so we will see what emerges from now on. The principal of the school must also be questioned about the whole matter, because there is an indication that he does not have things firmly under control at the school,” the official said.

When news of the matter broke weeks ago, Minister of Education, Youth and Information Ruel Reid said that he had not been briefed on the matter. He has still not commented on the issue which officials said has the potential to reach unprecedented heights.

Newspapers in Connecticut published articles of Johnson's arrest in mid-2016 after the substitute teacher allegedly assaulted the 17-year-old male student in a classroom at Warren Harding High School.

Johnson was arrested by personnel from Bridgeport Police's Fugitive Task Force on a warrant at his Park Terrace apartment on Tuesday, March 8, 2016 and charged with fourth-degree sex assault. He was placed on bond in the sum of US$75,000.

The incident is said to have occurred on March 1. He was fired in April.

Johnson was contracted by a New Jersey-based company Source4Teachers — that supplies substitute teachers to the Bridgeport Board of Education. He was fired by Source4Teachers in May 2016, four months before he was convicted. It emerged in court that he was in the USA on a visa which did not allow him to work as a teacher.

According to newspaper reports at the time, background checks on Johnson were done which showed no evidence of irregular sexual conduct, nor had there been any negative reports against him.

It could not be confirmed if the Jamaican high school did its background checks.

When the matter was called up in September 2016, Seaga-Johnson pleaded guilty to fourth-degree sexual assault under a law that prohibits teachers from becoming sexually involved with students who are minors or adults.

Evidence presented showed that he engaged in masturbation with the student several times in the classroom. The court heard that the sexual acts were in exchange for higher grades on assignments, and allowing the student to cheat in examinations.

Seaga-Johnson told the court that sex with the boy was consensual, but presiding Superior Court Judge William Holden snapped at Seaga-Johnson, saying to the about-to-be convict: “You were the adult in this situation, you were the authority figure, his teacher … and you had an obligation not to participate in this behaviour.”

Seaga-Johnson was ordered to undergo sex offender treatment and have no further contact with the boy.

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