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Invasion of Privacy

Sean Michaels was a seasoned professional with ethical concerns regarding the safety of his female students. A new student, Juan Curare, was a convicted sex offender who verbally harassed one of Sean’s female students. The school principal forbade Sean to warn the female students about Juan’s past.


"Good morning, Mr. Michaels, this is your new student. Juan has just moved here from New York and we are happy to have him at our school. I hope you’ll feel the same way too, Juan," stated Mrs. Braggert, the school guidance counselor.

"Good morning, Juan," replied Mr. Michaels, smiling directly at Juan. "Does Juan have a last name?" Mr. Michaels chuckled inquisitively, hoping to put Juan more at ease in his new school.

"Currare" replied the tall, muscular young man standing at Mrs. Braggert’s side.

"Good," answered Mr. Michaels, "that’s a good start. Why don’t you come on inside and we will get you caught up with the rest of the class," Mr. Michaels continued as he waved good-bye to Mrs. Braggert. Mr. Michaels introduced Juan to the class and found him a desk near the front.

Ever since he was a very young boy, Sean Michaels had wanted to follow in the footsteps of his parents and be a teacher. He had learned the value of an education and thought he could instill those beliefs in his students. This was Sean’s tenth year as an English teacher at Marionville High School and his personal goal was to maintain his enthusiasm for teaching right up until the day he retired.

His goal would be jeopardized, however, by his new student Juan. Juan’s first week at school was a rocky one, filled with daily conflicts with his peers that included verbal assaults and taunting. Sean decided to review Juan’s records to see if he could find any information that would help him understand Juan’s behavior. The records indicated that Juan was suspected of having emotional problems, but that he had never been evaluated. The records also indicated that Juan voluntarily withdrew from his previous school due to an altercation with a female classmate. Wanting to know more, Sean contacted Juan’s previous school and talked to a secretary who broke confidentiality and shared the details of the case. She said that Juan had been convicted of raping a young classmate two years earlier and had spent seven months in a juvenile detention center for his crime. At the end of the seven-month period, Juan convinced the probation panel that he had reformed and they granted his probation. He returned to school and shortly thereafter assaulted another student in the girls’ bathroom. Fortunately, there was a teacher in the restroom and the assault did not advance past harassment. Wanting to forget the entire situation, the girl’s parents decided not to press charges as long as Juan agreed to leave that school, which he did.

"His mother sent him to live with his father. I guess that is how he ended up at your school," the secretary told Sean.

Sean could not believe what he was hearing. He thanked the secretary for the information and continued to mull the story over in his mind all evening.

The next day, Sean divided his class into small groups to study sections of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. As the groups were working, he overheard Juan say "That bitch just needs a good f____! Just like you Jenny. I bet you would really like that, wouldn’t you?"

"One more word, Juan, and you’re out of here!" Sean warned.

Sean feared that it would only be a matter of time before Juan’s actions became more physical, so he took his concerns to Mr. Cale, the school principal. Sean explained what he had learned about Juan and the behavior he observed in the classroom. Mr. Cale responded, "I’m sorry, Mr. Michaels. There is absolutely nothing I can do beyond speaking with Juan and his father. Juan has not made physical advances toward any students and we can’t assume that he will. I agree that his verbal outbursts are disconcerting, but we can’t punish this kid for something he did in the past."

"But Mr. Cale," Sean argued with obvious concern in his voice, "by not taking any precautionary measures, how can we ensure the safety of our students, knowing Juan’s history? The girls at this school have a right to know to be cautious of how they interact with him."

"Mr. Michaels, our hands are tied! By telling anyone of Juan’s past, you are violating his right to privacy. Listen to me carefully. Do not take this any further, leave it all right here, right now!" Mr. Cale stated emphatically.

"I wish it were that easy," Sean replied.

"It is that easy." Mr. Cale’s eyes widened and his face grew stern. "Choosing to take action could cost you your job!"

Sean gave no response as he turned to walk out of the office. He knew every word the principal said was true. Taking action would be an invasion of Juan’s privacy that could result in the loss of the job he loved and wanted to keep. For teachers who didn't want to risk their jobs, the choice may have seemed easy but Sean couldn’t help thinking that some of his female students might be in danger. "What am I going to do?" he thought.


Discussion/Study Questions:

  1. List what you learned/know about each of the characters in the case.
  2. What do you think is motivating the thoughts/actions of each of the characters?
  3. What are the issues/problems in the case?


Additional Questions

  1. What are the rights and responsibilities of teachers and schools in regard to protecting the confidentiality of student information? When does the "right to know" apply?
  2. What are the rights and responsibilities of teachers and schools in regard to protecting the safety of students?
  3. Do you think the principal’s response to the situation was appropriate? Why or why not?
  4. What interventions do you think would be helpful for Juan?


CEC Competency/Knowledge Areas Addressed in the Case

Major Areas:

Rights and responsibilities of parents, students, teachers, and schools as they relate to individuals with exceptional learning needs.

Ethical practices for confidential communication to others about individuals with exceptional learning needs.


Other Areas:

Applicable laws, rules, and regulations, and procedural safeguards regarding the planning and implementation of management of student behaviors.


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