For years, Patrick Hickey vowed he did not do it. It never happened. His foes were lying about him; it was all politics.
“No, it didn’t happen,” he said on television earlier this year.
On Wednesday, though, the disgraced former Washington Local superintendent-turned-school-board member stood in front of a Michigan judge and pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, admitting he groped a 15-year-old student when he was a teacher in Addison Community Schools in the late 1980s.
A plea deal spared Hickey, 55, from three charges of criminal sexual conduct in the third degree. When he is sentenced next month, he faces up to two years in prison.
Accusations that Mr. Hickey carried on a sexual relationship with the girl when he was her coach and teacher surfaced in 2016 when a woman filed a police report and told an investigator she had sex with Hickey when she was 14.
He swore that the allegation was false and that he had been exonerated many years earlier — though that was not true.
Michigan authorities had investigated the case, but stopped short of pressing charges because the victim asked them not to and because it had been reported after the statute of limitations had expired.
But Michigan State Police later determined a provision in Michigan law nullifies the statute of limitations because Hickey left the state when the allegations were brought forward and reopened the investigation in January.
That was the same month Hickey assumed a seat on the Washington Local school board. He won election despite having been forced to resign as superintendent, despite having been banned from school property after numerous incidents of outrageous behavior, and despite the cloud of suspicion from this case.
His critics were liars, Hickey insisted. His accusers were not to be believed.
Washington Local inherited the problem that was Patrick Hickey thanks to an insidious practice commonly referred to in education as “passing the trash.” School districts allow employees accused of misconduct to leave and seek new jobs with new employers who are left in the dark about their troubles because districts do not want negative attention and/or they do not want a lengthy fight.
The victim in the case — after years of remaining silent and hoping to avoid the unwanted attention accusing Hickey would surely bring — told prosecutors she wanted his misdeeds to come to light. She wanted it to be known.
Too bad Addison Community Schools officials did not feel the same way when they let a predator skate away from accountability and on to a new job and a new pool of potential victims.
The practice of passing problems on to other school systems without full disclosure is unethical, and in many cases, like this one, morally criminal. There are proposals to make the practice illegal, and to create a searchable national database and require schools to both report teachers and administrators accused of misconduct and check it before hiring anyone. State and federal lawmakers should act on these measures.
How is it right that a woman whose teacher and coach violated her when she was a teenager had to be more courageous than the adults whose job it was to protect students?
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