Thursday, September 28, 2000

Net sex charges follow teacher

Popular educator faces 34 counts

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A popular English teacher who left Princeton Junior High this spring was indicted Wednesday on charges of sending sexually explicit material from his home to at least seven students.

        Prosecutors accuse Johnathan Barber, 29, of Finneytown of communicating via computer in inappropriate ways with students. The indictment claims he asked, among other things, what they did sexually. One student was asked to record herself in a sexual manner. Another was invited into a sex chat room and also received nude photos, including one of a male entitled “selfpic.”

Johnathan Barber
Johnathan Barber
        Mr. Barber has been charged with 34 counts, including 15 felonies, following a 17-month investigation that ran from November 1998 to April of this year.

        Such crimes are increasing, said Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen. “These cases are something we have to be very vigilant on. You have to come down hard on these individuals and that's what we're committed to do.”

        Princeton school officials say none of the activity took place on school grounds or with school computers. They said Mr. Barber was highly thought of by faculty and students at Princeton. He resigned May 5 from the school in suburban Sharonville after he learned of a police investigation, school officials said.

        “We had no control over Johnathan Barber and what he did off our premises,” said Sharon Oakes, spokeswoman for the Princeton school district.

        Within the month he had another teaching job.

        After a clean background check, Mr. Barber was hired by a new community school in Cincinnati, the W.E.B. Dubois Academy on Central Parkway. Principal Wilson Willard III said Mr. Barber was hired to put together the writing curriculum for the 120 third- through sixth-graders at the school.

    Experts say to prevent children from being exposed to inappropriate activities on the Internet, you should:

    • Talk to your child about sexual victimization and potential online danger.

    • Spend time with your children online, and have them teach you about their favorite online destinations.

    • Keep the computer in a common room in the house, not a child's bedroom. It is more difficult for a computer-sex offender to communicate with a child when the screen is visible to a parent.

    • Use parental controls provided by your Internet service provider and/or blocking software.

    • Always maintain access to your child's online account, and randomly check his or her e-mail.

    • Teach your child about responsible use of the resources on the Internet.

    • Find out what safeguards are used at your child's school, the public library and at the homes of your child's friends. These are all places, outside your normal supervision, where a child could encounter an online predator.

    • Instruct your child never to arrange face-to-face meetings with someone they meet online and to not respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent or harassing.

    • Tell your child to never give out identifying information such as name, address, school name or telephone number to people they don't know.

    • Tell your child to never post pictures of themselves on the Internet.
   Source: National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families

        “We took his fingerprints,” Mr. Willard said. “He has a clear criminal record. That's all we can go by.”

        Mr. Willard said the credential that impressed him most was Mr. Barber's designation as 1999 Teacher of the Year at Princeton Junior High.

        “Mr. Barber did an excellent job of combining strict discipline with a fun classroom and that's a hard balance,” he said.

        Mr. Barber had been teaching a writing class Wednesday when he found out about the indictment.

        “He left the building voluntarily at 11:30,” Mr. Willard said. “And he agreed not to return until the matter is resolved. At this time I can't say what action the board will take.

        “I'm going to pray for both the students that are here and the students on the other end and for Mr. Barber personally that this will be resolved one way or another.”

        Investigators say Mr. Barber had invited students at Princeton Junior High to stay in touch with him at home via computer. Sharonville police began investigating after a girl told her parents about the communications with Mr. Barber.

        “If one girl had not come forward to authorities it still might be going on,” Mr. Allen said.

        Authorities confiscated pornographic images from Mr. Barber's computer, which appeared to show children involved in sexual activity, the indictment charged. In addition to providing students and parents with access to him over the computer by way of e-mail, he also gave students access by instant messaging, Mr. Allen said.

        Mr. Barber's attorney, Kenneth Lawson, said his client denies the allegations.

        “It wasn't until we wrote a letter demanding his personal items to be returned that they decided to indict him,” Mr. Lawson said.

        Mr. Barber's charges include:

        • Pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor.

        • Contributing to the unruliness of a minor or attempting to cause unruliness of a minor.

        • Disseminating matter harmful to juveniles.

        • Possession of criminal tools.

        Experts say there is no doubt that with the emergence of the Internet, people have found more ways to commit sex crimes. Some of the more public cases have prodded activists to become more vigilant in their efforts to protect children.

        The Cincinnati-based National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families is just such an organization.

        “Certainly the Internet and the ability to send e-mails electronically and the sense of anonymity clearly increase the stakes and the possibility of this happening,” said Rick Schatz, president of the coalition.

        But instances in which a child or teen knows the individual can be just as dangerous.

        “That's exactly how these situations start,” Mr. Schatz said. “They start with innocent discussions and then it gets more explicit.”

        Dr. Michael Flick, an education professor at Xavier University, said it is not the teacher-student relationship that has changed but the educational tools.

        “All the new teacher training programs are addressing the pitfalls of using the Web,” he said. “Like any other tool, you can use it properly or you can use it not so properly.”

        Most schools have Internet filters to block explicit material. Mr. Schatz said this case shows why parents need to monitor their children's use at home because the exchanges were made between the teacher's home computer and the students'.

        Mr. Allen said Mr. Barber's alleged acts are an affront to every dedicated teacher and a gross abuse of teacher-student relationships.

        “These are the types of cases we're going to have to be extremely conscientious,” he said, because they involve impressionable teen-agers.

        “When will these teens be able to trust an adult again?”


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