Northern New York Newspapers
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Sun., Aug. 30
Serving the communities of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties, New York
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A one-man wrecking crew in a rural school district


If you had a choice of color, which one would you choose my brothers? If there was no day or night, which would you prefer to be right?

MARCH 27, 2012: While politicians publicly debate the merits of the No Child Left Behind Act, educators continue to spend countless dollars and man-hours attempting to ensure that no child is left alone with a teacher.

Many high school teachers can tell you about a moment when they were helping a student prepare for a test, or a game, or a school play and suddenly had every bell, whistle and siren go off in their heads screaming: “I am alone with a student. This is not good.” In such cases a teacher's training is kicking in, not just to prevent impropriety, but to also prevent the appearance of impropriety.

However, in this imperfect world, a few teachers reject the training and ignore the sirens. And in the worst of all worst case scenarios, you have what happened in the South Lewis Central School District: a former district teacher, Bryan Barney, led one of his students into a sexual relationship, and in the chaos that ensued, they each committed suicide within 16 weeks of each other.

In our subsequent phone calls from South Lewis residents, and emails we have received in the last few days, there is no unified reaction to our Sunday story about this tragic case. We have heard everything from “thank you” to “how could you be so cruel?” We have heard everything from “what took you so long to report this?” to “this story should have never been written.”

We have been accused of covering up this story for months on behalf of the school district, which one writer alleges knowingly allowed a pedophile to resign in 2010 rather than be prosecuted. Another person has accused the district of allowing the former teacher to entice a second teenager into having sex with him. And a caller accused the paper of printing the story to pander to a group of people who oppose the closure of one of the district's elementary schools, and thus would like to see the South Lewis administration embarrassed.

One “friend” on our Facebook page warns that our story will “start more problems among students and hostility toward this student that ran their mouth to the paper...people will find out who it is.”

In other words, some South Lewis residents in responding to our story are making allegations that are far worse than anything the Times has written.

Blaming others is often the outcome when chaos ensues, and there is no better word to describe the result of having a flawed mentor go after his innocent students. The reputation of a school district can come apart like a cheap suit if it is determined it employed a predator who sexually took advantage of his charges.

But in the end, the blame should be directed at only one person: a teacher who received the same training as every other certified teacher in New York and still put his own cravings ahead of the needs of everyone else.

And north country educators, students and guidance counselors would be wise to see this story as the cautionary tale it is. The story is true. Instead of wishing it would all go away, we should be ever vigilant to ensure it doesn't happen again.

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