Issue date: May 19, 2000
Students and staff struggle with Hagan arrest
Students and staff struggle with Hagan arrest
(May 19, 2000)
Counselors help students sort out their feelings
By Karen Willemsen and Jose Antonio Vargas
When Egan Middle School music teacher Terrance Hagan was taken away in handcuffs May 9, his arrest brought dozens of calls to Los Altos School District Superintendent Marge Gratiot's office. The question of how an alleged sexual predator, one who targets underaged female students, could have earned a job with the school district, is a disturbing one.
Gratiot told the Voice that Hagan was a well-liked teacher with full credentials in music and no prior criminal history. At Egan, he taught band and leadership, and occasionally helped in the physical education department.
"We had no way to anticipate this," said Gratiot of Hagan's arrest. "I called his references myself," she added.
While laws governing the confidentiality of personnel records prevented Gratiot from providing a copy of his resume, the superintendent did acknowledge that Hagan had taught at Jordan Middle School in Palo Alto, and was fully credentialed by the State of California.
David Adams, Hagan's former music teacher at Palo Alto High School who currently teaches music at Palo Alto elementary schools, said, "He was a great student, a good musician. He was very involved and very responsible. I'm very saddened by his current situation. I'm sure he's real upset. It's probably his worst nightmare."
The state requires candidates for teaching credentials to submit fingerprints along with detailed educational records, recommendations from their colleges, and personal information including their Social Security numbers. The fingerprints are matched against a state database of prints from criminal defendants.
Hagan received his credential without a hitch, indicating he had never been convicted of any criminal wrongdoing.
The same held true for another Egan teacher and coach, Richard Dean Vargas, who resigned in 1997 after he sold and mailed a videotape containing child pornography to an undercover police informant.
"In neither of those cases did the person have any previous behavior that we could have noticed," said Gratiot. As for Hagan, Gratiot and Egan Principal Brenda Dykman interviewed their staff extensively to elicit whether Hagan might have told a colleague he was involved with minors.
"We're a very close staff in a small school, and I can state unequivocally that no one had any knowledge of this. If they did, they would be bound by law to report it," said Gratiot.
Once police came to the school to arrest Hagan, the two women responded quickly. Dykman held an all-school meeting, inviting the school's counselor to join her.
By the end of the meeting, Dykman had laid out what she knew of the allegations against Hagan and fielded questions from students.
"They really wanted to know things about how he was caught, what if he didn't do it, would he be a teacher again, and also about the victims. We talked a lot about what it means to have a fair trial. We just did the best we could to answer the questions," said Dykman.
Meanwhile, Gratiot drafted a letter to go home with students the same day to let Egan's parents know about the situation before they saw it unfolding on the news.
Katherine, an eighth-grade Egan student, took Hagan's band class. She said, "Most people are shocked. He was a really nice guy and a really good teacher. Nobody saw him arrested. It wasn't in class," she said. "So when we first heard about it, we thought it was maybe a drug charge or something, but not anything like this."
The school's culture has long encouraged students to seek out a counselor, principal, or teacher whenever they experience tension or conflict. It's not uncommon to see a group of students disagreeing on the blacktop, and then spontaneously trooping off to the counselor's office to resolve the matter.
"I think the students know they can do that, and we want them to come to us," said Dykman, who spoke with several students in her office the afternoon of the arrest.
As confirmation came that one of the Hagan's alleged victims, a 17-year old girl, attended Los Altos High, acting principal Ed Whitehead met with his teachers.
They reported to him that the "many kids who knew him are in a state of total disbelief, even denial. They really liked this guy," Whitehead reported. "With others, they sense anger and betrayal."
However, Los Altos High senior Scott Hayman, this year's marching band drum major, had a different view. "I personally feel that it's nobody's business. We know what happened, and that's the most important thing. Those involved know that they are involved. Those who are not should know what happened, but the specifics are on a need-to-know basis, and they don't need to know."
Whitehead said, "The faculty are angry too that a teacher would betray a child's trust in that way. It affects us, because most of us went into teaching because of a special teacher we knew, someone who was a mentor and a role model." He added, "Teachers are someone you can trust, and now some kids will come here not trusting anyone. And that's a tragedy."