Education

Massachusetts Teacher Arrested For Child Porn Keeps Pension Benefits

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

A Massachusetts teacher who resigned after being arrested on child pornography charges will keep his pension, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled.

Ronald Garney, 67, was arrested in 2006 and pleaded guilty to 11 counts of purchasing and possessing child pornography. The ninth-grade science teacher was sentenced to 2.5 to 3 years in jail.

After 20 years in the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District, Garney resigned before being dismissed for conduct unbecoming of a teacher.

A federal child porn sting found 575 child porn images on his home computer and 85 child porn videos in his home organized by gender, according to court documents. None of the children identified in the images were from Amherst schools.

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A year after his resignation, he began collecting benefits from the Massachusetts Teachers' Retirement System, receiving nearly $2,400 a month.

In February 2009, the MTRS board cut off those benefits saying his conviction forfeited his right to retirement because he had accessed child-porn websites by using his work email address.

A district court later upheld that decision. But in a unanimous decision last week the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed the ruling.

"Although cognizant of the severity of the offenses of which Garney was convicted, we concluded that on the specific facts of this case, those offenses neither directly involved his position as a teacher nor contravened a particular law applicable to that position, and therefore did not come within the forfeiture provision of (the law)," Justice Robert Cordy wrote in the decision.

The court said the system failed to prove Garney abused a position of trust.

"Criminal conduct that is merely inconsistent with a concept of special public trust placed in the position or defiant of a general professional norm applicable to the position, but not violative of a fundamental precept of the position embodied in a law applicable to it, may be adequate to warrant dismissal, but it is insufficient to justify forfeiture," Cordy said.

Sources: Courthouse News Service, Amherst Bulletin

Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons / Missoula Public Library, Gazette File Photo