Boston superintendent Carol Johnson says she regrets failure to discipline headmaster accused of assault

10/24/2011 Boston, MA Carol R. Johnson Boston superintendent of Schools announcing a proposal to change the location of several schools during a standing room only School Committee meeting in the Edward J. Winter Chambers on Monday October 24, 2011. (Matthew J. Lee) slug: 25schools section: Metro reporter: James Vaznis
Superintendent Carol Johnson says she should have disciplined a headmaster accused of domestic assault.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson now says she made a mistake when she chose not to discipline a headmaster accused of domestic assault.

In an interview with The Boston Globe, Johnson said she understands that she should have taken action against Rodney Peterson, who was arrested on June 17, 2011, for allegedly punching and choking his wife five weeks after she gave birth to their first child.

Peterson, who later admitted to sufficient facts for a jury to find him guilty, was allowed to stay on the job at the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics & Science in Roxbury without facing any internal discipline, the Globe reported Sunday. Johnson also sent a letter of support to the judge who sentenced Peterson for the domestic violence incident.

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“Unfortunately, by making the judgment call I did I think I sent a mixed message,’’ Johnson said. “By making the judgment call I made, I sent a mixed message to families and students. I can’t undo what I did. I made a mistake, and I wish I could have done things differently.”

She said she now realizes that school personnel who are facing criminal charges should not be allowed to automatically return to the classroom.

“I think the right thing to do from the start is to put people on administrative leave” unless they are arrested for participating in freedom of speech-related events, Johnson said.

In retrospect, she said, “the right thing to do in these cases is to err on the side of caution. I can’t undo what was done.”

She added: “We need to send a clear message to students and families that violence is never acceptable.”

She said she hopes to have the new guidelines for handling arrests of staff members for non-school related incidents in place by week’s end.

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