Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Associate Commissioner of Education Keith Westrich resigns

How it is that Universal Hub has this first, I don’t know, but nonetheless:
Keith Westrich, associate commissioner for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, who long worked on programs to get high-school kids ready for life after graduation, was placed on leave and then retired after his name was published in a list of former "clergy with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor" issued by the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
That list, which came out three weeks ago, is here. On it, we find that Westrich was "removed from ministry," after being ordained in 1981, which is a fairly recent ordination. He was not, however, laicized; in other words, the Archdiocese didn't say he isn't a priest anymore, 'though he may have had his preaching faculties removed (so he couldn't serve in ministry).
The MassLive report is here. The Boston Globe doesn’t have much more. NECN reports here.
His name has already been removed from DESE’s employee rolls. EDITED TO ADD: yes, one needs to be CORI'd to work at DESE, but this wouldn't turn up on a CORI check, as there's been no legal action up until now.
Obvious question, of course, is if his responsibilities included anything directly with students, to which the Globe has only this:
It was not immediately Tuesday clear how long Westrich had worked for the agency, or what his specific duties entailed.
I have yet to see any response to that. That would be really important and someone should find out.
EDITED TO ADD: as was raised last week in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch coverage:
The St. Louis list omits the whereabouts of living priests, which concerned Barbara Dorris, a former director of the advocacy group SNAP.
“If you’re going to put out this list and it’s going to be useful, we also need to know where are these guys now and what are they doing?” she said. “Are they working near schools?”
Note that the Archdiocese has turned over that list to the Missouri Attorney General, where the investigation is ongoing. 
More as I have it.

UPDATED after I thought about this more overnight:
The above question, if his work entailed working directly with students is very, very relevant and someone really needs to push DESE on that. Further, in Boston University's online bio, he came to DESE from a position as Director of the Boston Private Industry Council’s nationally recognized ProTech program, which is a student internship program. The same question thus needs to be asked there, and whereever it is that he worked between his time leaving the Archdiocese and that position.

But from a best practices standpoint, here's what's bothering me this morning:
It seems clear from DESE's statement that, while they were ready for the question, they weren't going to release anything on their own. If we have learned ANYTHING from the Roman Catholic church's (lack of) handling of such allegations, shouldn't it be that letting people simply move on without public comment allows the issue to continue?
Was DESE simply going to let one of their top officials quietly move on after a creditable allegation of sexual assault of a minor surfaced? This is our K-12 education agency. THAT IS NOT OKAY.

This shouldn't have to be said, but much in the way the Catholic church violated one of its core tenets in not protecting children, the Department not putting the safety of children explicitly first in this violates its core responsibility.

1 comment:

Adam Gaffin said...

Before he ran the ProTech program, he worked as a "career advisor" with an office in West Roxbury High School, and kids were told to talk to him directly (look on the right of the page that comes up). And this was 1990, just four years after he was "removed from ministry" in Missouri.

There's an interesting story waiting to be told here.