Special Assignment: Presumed Guilty

Updated: Monday, November 4 2013, 09:57 PM MST
Special Assignment: Presumed Guilty story image

By: Erika Castillo
EL PASO, Texas – There are about 36,000 educators combined in the city's five school districts, and when a teacher makes a mistake that affects a student, that teacher is supposed to be investigated.

However, many teachers say they work in a culture where they are presumed guilty regardless of accusations or who brings them.

Several serial killers, including Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer and Richard Ramirez, were awarded the rights of the accused in this country. Those rights are designed to guarantee they are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

It's called due process and it's a constitutional right awarded to every citizen in the country.

However, in Texas, an accused serial killer automatically has more rights than a teacher.

Jim Darnell, a veteran attorney in El Paso, represents the lion's share of teachers unions in Texas.

He said he is convinced that teachers are not granted adequate due process when they face accusations of wrongdoing of any nature, criminal or otherwise.

"If you're a student and I'm a teacher and you think I'm an a--hole, all you have to do is say Mr. Darnell touched me," Darnell said.

Each individual school district is required simply to provide due process to any teacher accused of wrongdoing. But each individual district makes its own rules about how to do this.

There is nothing set in stone in state law that dictates what or how school district procedures should be applied to ensure due process.

"As employees, we feel so helpless because we feel like we are not afforded an opportunity to defend ourselves and that is a major concern," said Norma De La Rosa, president of the El Paso Teachers Association.

While there is an appeals process and it's on the teachers unions to represent educators who are members, Darnell said it's not enough to balance the system.

He believes the only solution is for the unions to charge teachers higher fees so they can hire more attorneys and fight harder to demand teachers are properly represented.

Special Assignment: Presumed Guilty
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